Court rules on at-will employment contracts
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
August 3, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The California Supreme Court made
it easier today for employers to fire workers when their contracts
say their jobs can be terminated "at will" and "at
The court, in a ruling issued in San Francisco, upheld the right
of an advertising agency, Arnold Worldwide Inc., to fire a supervisor
in its Los Angeles office without giving a reason.
The employee, Brook Dore, had moved from Colorado to take a management
supervisor job on an automobile account in 1999 and was fired
The company's contract letter to Dore, which Dore had signed,
stated his employment was "at will" and could be terminated
at any time.
Dore unsuccessfully argued in a lawsuit that the agreement was
ambiguous and that the company couldn't fire him without cause,
or a good reason.
He contended that ambiguity was created by other language in
the letter and by earlier statements in which officials said the
company was looking for a long-term solution and treated its employees
like a family.
But the state high court said the letter was unambiguous.
Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote, "The language of the parties'
written agreement is unambiguous. AWI's letter plainly states
that Dore's employment with AWI was at will.''
The decision resolves a conflict among intermediate appeals courts
in the state.
Some appeals courts, including one in Los Angeles that ruled
in Dore's case, have said that the phrase "at any time"
can sometimes be ambiguous and that other evidence can be considered.
Other courts have disagreed.
Mark Waterman, a lawyer for Arnold Worldwide, said, "This
decision strengthens the concept of at-will employment. The court
is saying here that if you use the words 'at will' and 'can be
terminated at any time,' that's clear.''
Clay Robbins, a lawyer for Dore, "It's a truly unfortunate
decision. I fear it gives employers the right to bait and switch
when hiring employees.''
Robbins said Dore relied on the statements made by company officials
during the month before he accepted the job and was given the
Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication,
Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent
of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.