|Agreement with Employer May Create Binding Terms of Employment|
Appeals court held that where an agreement was reached, evidenced by written notes, about a three year employment contract, it would be for the jury to determine if the parties intended to commit to a fixed term of years so that the employee was no longer subject to employment-at-will discharge.
Breach of Contract; Term of Years
|C A S E S U M M A R Y|
Baum met with the president of HGP to discuss a position. Baum said that he wanted a contract for at least three years. He outlined the agreement in meeting notes that specified salary and job duties for the next three years. When he was hired, his supervisor signed the meeting notes, which were marked as a contract. The president of the company never signed the agreement. After less than a year, Baum was fired. The president said that he failed to live up to expectations. Baum sued for breach of contract. The district court granted HGP summary judgment, holding that the agreement may be an employment contract, but it was not for a definite term. Baum appealed.
Reversed. In Missouri, in the absence of a contract for employment for a definite term or a contrary statutory provision, an employer may discharge an employee at any time, without cause or reason, or for any reason. Unless a contract specifies the duration of employment, or limits the reason for discharge, termination may occur with no liability for breach of contract. Here, the contract is ambiguous, so a question of material fact exists as to the parties’ intent, which is for a jury to resolve at trial. The agreement is reasonably susceptible to more than one construction, so the jury will determine if there was a clear three year term of employment and what the grounds were for ending the contract without liability.
Baum v. Helget Gas Products, Inc., 440 F.3d 1019 (8th Cir., 2006)
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