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Zieglmeier v. Daewoo Electronics America, Inc.

BER-L-8106-03 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE; AT-WILL EMPLOYEES — The issuance of a warning notice to an employee does not create a contract that would change an employee’s status from that of an “at-will” employee because company evaluations and warning notices may be established to set guidelines for bonuses, promotions or probation, but do not protect against termination.

A company had a policy requiring technical support employees to respond to thirty customer complaints each day. When certain employees failed to meet their quota, the company gave them three warnings. The company then fired the employees for failing to meet their daily quota. The employees sued, claiming that the company policy was unreasonable and implemented in bad faith to have them fired. They filed a complaint alleging that: (a) the company violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD); and (b) issuing the written warning notices created an express contract, and that the company breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing when it terminated them.

The company moved for summary judgment, and the Court dismissed the complaint finding the employees to be “at-will.” It noted that in the absence of a contract there cannot be a breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. It also noted that the company’s employee manual clearly stated that all employees were “at-will” employees, and that no employment contracts could be entered into without the company president’s written consent. The Court found that the warning notice did not create a contract because company evaluations and warning notices may be established to set guidelines for bonuses, promotions or probation, but do not protect against termination. It found that the warning notice was not equivalent to written consent from the company’s president to change the employees’ status from “at-will” employees. The Court also rejected the employees’ claim that the quota was not instituted for legitimate business purposes, but was instituted as a pretext to fire them. It also found that common law causes of action are pre-empted when an NJLAD claim exists. The Court found that the employee’s claim that the quota was imposed as a pretext to fire them was based on the same conduct as the discrimination claim that was dismissed. Therefore, it was barred by statute.


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