The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas
Presently before the Court are Defendant Chartwells' Motion for Summary Judgment and Motions in Limine filed May 29, 2003. Defendant seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that Defendant breached an implied contract when her employment was terminated without cause and without adherence to the termination procedures outlined in the employee handbook.
On May 25, 2001 this Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendant for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress This Court granted Chartwell's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claim for wrongful discharge under the Family Leave Act on May 17, 2002, but granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint asserting a claim for breach of implied contract. Plaintiff filed her amended complaint on May 31, 2002. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for breach of implied contract. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Plaintiff Carol Renart was employed full time as a cook with Defendant Chartwells ("Chartwells") at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, New Jersey, from November 6, 1998 until she was discharged on November 5, 1999 for excessive and/or unexcused absences. Plaintiff alleges that because of implied promises in the employee handbook, she could be terminated only for cause and only after the procedures set forth in the handbook were followed. Plaintiff claims that Chartwells failed to follow the termination procedures outlined in the employee handbook.
When Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant, she signed a statement in conjunction with her employment application that declared: "[I] understand my employment and compensation can be terminated with or without cause or notice, at any time, at the option of either the company or myself." (Decl. of Eric Savage at Ex. B). This page of the application contained language directing Plaintiff to: "PLEASE READ VERY CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING BELOW." Id. Plaintiff does not dispute that she read and signed the application.
Plaintiff claims, however, that Chartwells' Associate Handbook, distributed to her at the start of her employment, trumps the employment application, and contractually obligates Chartwells to follow the progressive disciplinary procedures contained therein before terminating an employee on the basis of excessive and/or unexcused absences.
The Associate Handbook includes the following disclaimer on the first page, which is distinguished from the remainder of the text by bold-faced italic type on a shaded background:
This handbook is not intended to be nor does it
constitute an express or implied contract of any
kind in favor of associates nor shall any associate
or applicant for employment have any contractual
rights, claims or privileges against the Company by
virtue of this handbook. Moreover, nothing in this
handbook is intended to create any type of agreement
for employment or continued employment or guaranteed
hours of work.
(Decl. of Eric Savage at Ex. F).
The Handbook describes the company's policies and procedures on a variety of topics, including attendance and lateness. (Decl. of Eric Savage at Ex. F). The company's "Attendance and Lateness Policy", establishes a graduated process for disciplining employees who have accumulated an excessive number of absences. These disciplinary procedures provide for a series of warnings, and vary depending on the employee's status as a probationary or non-probationary employee.
Plaintiff alleges that, despite the explicit language of the Handbook's first page, the Handbook creates implied contractual obligations that Defendant breached when Plaintiff was terminated without the benefit of these progressive disciplinary procedures.
"[S]ummary judgment is proper `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). "[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, ...