Sometimes, by coincidence, two unrelated decision get released in close proximity to one another that they bring some greater clarity to the law.
Yesterday, I discussed a Connecticut Superior Court case that found that certain discussions did not create an employment contract and that the employee was properly classified as "at-will".
Earlier this week, a federal court in Connecticut granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment after finding that a Corrective Action memorandum did not create an employment contract either (and did not create any other claims).
In Ide v. Winwholesale, Inc. (download here), Judge Squatrito was asked to address whether the employee’s termination — after allegedly being "coerced" into signing a Corrective Action memorandum — violated an important public policy. The court found that it did not and found that there was nothing inherently wrong with the memorandum either.
The court indicated that, in essence, the plaintiff and a co-worker were engaging in a back-and-forth tit-for-tat that ultimately led to them both being disciplined. The employer then issued a Corrective Action memorandum to address the issues. The memo is similar to the type that many companies use to address disciplinary and performance issues with their employees: it spells out what was unacceptable and sets forth a plan to make sure the employee follows procedures on a going-forward basis.
The employee blamed a fellow co-worker for his problems. But the court rejected that argument calling it the "But he started it!" defense. This court did not stop there; the Court also found that the employee’s argument that there was a "genuine issue of fact" concerning the Corrective Action memorandum forced the court to ask "So what?"
The court then delivers the knockout punch to the plaintiff’s case:
[The plaintiff] further argues that the Corrective Action memorandum constituted a contract, but, because he was coerced into signing the Corrective Action memorandum, the contract was void. The merit of this argument escapes the Court. There is no indication that the parties expected or intended the Corrective Action memorandum to be a “contract,” nor has Ide established in any way that the Corrective Action memorandum satisfies the legal standard for a contract (i.e., offer, acceptance, consideration).
What’s the takeaway for employers here?
Courts will still use common sense in deciding employment cases. Here, the employer had detailed the reasons for its decision is a clear and concise fashion and used a corrective action memorandum that backed up its reasoning. The importance of documentation and, at least the appearance of, fairness, made this a fairly easy case for the Court to dispose of.
In essence, the employer did what would be expected of it. It learned about violations of the company’s policies, addressed them, and then fired the employee when he failed to correct the deficiencies noted.
One important last note for employment law practitioners: The court takes the employer to task on one procedural issue — namely the filing of a motion to strike portions of the plaintiff’s affidavit that was filed in response to the motion for summary judgment. The court suggests that the federal rules of civil procedure do not allow for such a practice and "The parties to an action ‘should have faith . . . that the court knows the difference between admissible and non-admissible evidence, and
would not base a summary judgment decision simply upon the self-serving ipse dixit of a particular party.’"
The court suggests that if a party wants to object to portions of an affidavit, that the party should argue it in the summary judgment briefing itself.
UPDATE: Portions of the underlying decision, which have no impact on the outcome of the case, have been redacted by request.