Summary of Decision June 15, 2012
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Case Name: Kuhl v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A
Citation: 2012 WY 85
Docket Number: S-11-0221
Appeal from the District Court of Sublette County, The Honorable Marvin L. Tyler, Judge
Representing Appellant (Plaintiff): Bernard Q. Phelan, Phelan Law Offices, Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee (Defendant): Matthew E. Turner, Mullikin, Larson & Swift, LLC, Jackson, Wyoming.
Date of Decision: June 15, 2012
Facts: Appellant, a bank president, learned that Appellee was planning to purchase several banks, including his. Appellant attended a meeting at which the sales agreement was presented for shareholder approval. From that agreement, he learned that the presidents of three other banks being purchased by Appellee would be offered written two-year employment contracts. However, Appellant was not on the list of bank presidents to be offered such a contract.
Appellee’s human resource manager for the region came to Appellant’s bank to deliver written employment offers to those employees Appellee wanted to retain. Appellant was among those, and at the end of the day, the human resources manager provided him with a letter offering him employment with Appellee. The first paragraph informed Appellant that Appellee was “committed to retaining key employees such as you through this transition.” The letter also set forth a base salary, retention bonus payments after six months and one year employment, and other employment details. However, above Appellant’s signature, the letter also include a paragraph setting forth conditions of at will employment. Appellant asked the human resource manager about the “employment at will” language. The response is disputed, but Appellant contends the manager told him his employment could be terminated only if he did something illegal. Several other employment documents signed by Appellant, including an employee handbook, repeated the acknowledgement of at will employment.
The employment relationship between Appellant and Appellee deteriorated rapidly after the closing. The reasons are in dispute, but were not material at the summary judgment stage. Appellee terminated Appellant’s employment after just under six months employment.
Appellant brought wrongful termination claims against his former employer. The district court granted summary judgment against him and in favor of Appellee, and Appellant appeals that ruling.
Issues: 1) Did the district court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee on Appellant’s claim for breach of an express contract of employment? 2) Did the district court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee on Appellant’s claim for breach of an implied contract of employment? 3) Did the district court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee on Appellant’s claim for promissory estoppel? 4) Did the district court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee on Appellant’s claim for tortious breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing?
Holdings: The Court determined the written employment contract between Appellee and Appellant unambiguously provided that his employment was at-will, and was not modified orally by either Appellant or the human resource manager. The Court also concluded that because he read and understood the disclaimers, Appellant could not reasonably claim that the Appellee handbook created an implied contract modifying his status as an at-will employee. The same disclaimers that prevented the formation of an implied contract of employment, also preclude his claim of promissory estoppel. The Court also found that Appellant’s brief tenure with Appellee was insufficient to establish the sort of special relationship needed to sustain a tort claim of breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
J. Burke delivered the opinion for the court.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Summary of Decision June 15, 2012