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Buian v. Jacobs

June 17, 1970

NICHOLAS BUIAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
J. L. JACOBS AND COMPANY, A PARTNERSHIP, AND THOMAS L. JACOBS AND CARL LUTZ, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Fairchild and Kerner, Circuit Judges, and Doyle, District Judge.*fn* Fairchild, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

Author: Kerner

KERNER, Circuit Judge.

The sole issue raised in this appeal is whether plaintiff-appellant Nicholas Buian's employment contract with defendant-appellee J. L. Jacobs and Company was for a definite duration or terminable at will. The trial court found the employment contract to be terminable at will and granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

On January 12, 1964, plaintiff-appellant Buian was offered a position with defendant J. L. Jacobs and Company to work on a project concerning personnel management in Saudi Arabia. Plaintiff accepted the employment and a $1,000 per month base salary was agreed upon which was later increased by an additional overseas stipend.

On January 27, 1964, plaintiff received a letter from defendant company signed by managing partner, Thomas L. Jacobs. The letter provided in pertinent part:

I am writing to confirm your employment with our company as a Principal Associate, and your initial assignment to head up the classification and compensation phase of our personnel project for the Government of Saudi Arabia * * * your initial salary including overseas allowance for Saudi Arabia, will be $1,250 per month. * * It is scheduled that your assignment in Saudi Arabia will continue for a period of eighteen (18) months. * * As a regular staff associate of our company, you will participate in our regular company employment benefits. Most of these are liberalized for the Saudi Arabia assignment.

It is intended that all staff associates assigned to the Saudi Arabia projects will remain in Saudi Arabia (except for vacation or other approved personal travel) throughout the duration of the specified assignments. This of course presumes satisfactory service by each associate, no interruption or cancellation of the project by the Saudi Arabia government, and continued desire by each associate to continue on the assignment.

We hope to be able to continue each associate's services with the company, but this of course must depend on the company workload and available assignments at the time.

In the event that the contract is cancelled by the client or otherwise terminated by forces beyond our control, and we are not in a position to continue an associate's services with the company, he will receive two months base salary as termination pay. In the event that the work or conduct of an associate is unsatisfactory, he may or may not receive termination pay, depending upon the circumstances of the case.

Plaintiff Buian signed and returned the letter. Approximately one month after plaintiff's arrival in Saudi Arabia, his employment was terminated.

Plaintiff contends that the letter of January 27, 1964, was a binding and valid employment contract between the parties obligating the defendants to employ the plaintiff for at least eighteen (18) months. Defendant argues that the employment contract was terminable at will by either party. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that the contract was terminable at will and, therefore, contended no fact questions are raised as to whether plaintiff performed satisfactorily under the agreement. The district court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment and from this order plaintiff appeals.

An employment contract not specifically intended by the parties to be any certain duration creates an employment relationship which is terminable at will by either party without cause and without liability. See e.g., Atwood v. Curtiss Candy Company, 22 Ill.App.2d 369, 161 N.E.2d 355 (1959). We agree with the district court that "the agreement is clear on its face that it does not guarantee any specific term of employment * * *" and, consequently, find the contract to be terminable at will.

Plaintiff relies on the wording of the January 27, 1964, agreement which provides that "It is scheduled that your assignment in Saudi Arabia will continue for a period of eighteen (18) months" to support his contention that the parties intended a contract of specific duration. We construe this phrase as merely one of expectation and not sufficient to insert any ambiguity into an otherwise customary employment relationship terminable at will. Cf. Brekken v. Reader's Digest Special Products Corporation, Inc., 353 F.2d 505 (7th Cir. 1965). In addition, the letter of January 27 states that plaintiff would remain in Saudi Arabia throughout the duration of his specified assignment presuming:

"satisfactory service by each associate, no interruption or cancellation of the project by the Saudi Arabia government, and continued desire by each associate to ...


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