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Gras v. Clark

OPINION FILED MARCH 22, 1977.

DONNA GRAS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ROBERT CLARK ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. EDWIN L. DOUGLAS, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE SEIDENFELD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, who had been a tenured professor at Elmhurst College, sued to enjoin violation of her employment contract and to recover damages. Defendants pleaded a written resignation which plaintiff had submitted on November 1, 1972, to be effective at the end of the 1973-74 academic year. Further pleadings showed that plaintiff had notified the defendants in August of 1973 that she was withdrawing her resignation but that defendants advised her that she would not be allowed to do so. Defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted, based upon the pleadings, affidavits and a transcript of plaintiff's testimony at a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction. Judgment was entered in favor of the defendants from which plaintiff appeals.

The affidavit of Robert J. Clark, the dean of the faculty of Elmhurst College, in substance stated that either in the month of July or August of 1972, Donna Gras advised him of her decision to retire as a member of the teaching staff in the fall of 1974; that on or about November 1, 1972, the verbal decision was confirmed in writing by the following letter which plaintiff handed to Clark:

"This is to confirm my decision to retire in the Fall of 1974. I had already mentioned it to you and also Dr. Frick this summer. However, I understand that a written confirmation is necessary at this time."

It was further stated that in reliance on the resignation Clark conferred with plaintiff and with another member of the teaching staff, Paulette Hatmaker, and that both of the parties agreed to accept an appointment for the 1973-74 teaching program. This was confirmed and accepted by the following letter sent by Dr. Frick to Mrs. Gras dated December 4, 1972:

"For financial reasons, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has authorized that your appointment for 1973-74 will be half-time. During this year your full fringe benefit programs will continue.

You are an outstanding teacher and we do appreciate your services to Elmhurst College.

As indication that you have received this notice of appointment of half time for 1973-74, please countersign a copy of this letter and return the same to Dean Clark's office by December 12."

Mrs. Gras countersigned the letter. However, on September 14, 1973, plaintiff submitted a letter advising that she was withdrawing her resignation.

In answer to interrogatories Dean Clark stated that he had various conversations with Mrs. Gras beginning in 1972. He said that he was aware of the possibility of her resignation as early as the summer of 1972 when Mrs. Gras advertised the sale of personal items in her apartment. He and his wife visited with her and she told him that she was beginning to sell her personal things so she and her husband would be able to move to France in 1974. On October 9, 1972, she again mentioned the possibility of retirement. On October 19, 1972, Dean Clark met with Mrs. Devaud, who was chairperson of the French department, and told her that she would have to reduce her department by one person; that Mrs. Devaud asked if it would be possible to effect the reduction by having Mrs. Gras and another member of the department teach on a half-time basis for 1973-1974 and have the other member continue to teach after Mrs. Gras retired; that he told Mrs. Devaud that this would be possible but that it would be necessary to have a written statement from Mrs. Gras confirming her termination of employment; and that on or about November 1st, Mrs. Gras came to his office without prior appointment and gave him the letter confirming her termination. In further answer to interrogatories, Dean Clark included a letter to Mrs. Hatmaker dated December 6, 1972:

"As I told you in my office the other day, the following conditions pertain to your situation regarding the reduction in faculty.

First of all, barring any unforeseen circumstances, when Mrs. Gras retires you will be able to return to the French Department on a full-time basis for the 1974-1975 academic year. Secondly, your salary for 1973-1974 academic year will be half of what your full salary would have been, including whatever increase is possible. Finally, as the President said in his letter, your fringe benefit program will continue for the 1973-74 academic year as though you were a full-time professor."

Further, he answered that in August of 1973, Mrs. Gras came to the office and told him that she and her husband had been to France where they planned to retire, and had found that the retirement income would not be sufficient, at which time she asked him if she could withdraw her confirmation. He told her that he did not see how it would be possible to change the commitments and plans which had been made for the French department. He talked to her again on September 20, 1973, when she told him that she had met with Mrs. Devaud and another person in accordance with the appeal procedures of the college and that they had suggested she might teach on a part-time basis in 1974-75 in the evening session or find other suitable employment on the campus, such as the library. She also asked if she could be hired as an assistant professor in the French department for the academic year 1975-76. Dean Clark told her he would look into the possibility as a part-time employee but that it would be impossible to hire her for the 1975-76 academic year because of her voluntary termination.

Dr. Ivan E. Frick, the president of the college, answered interrogatories stating in substance that Mrs. Gras had informed him orally that she would terminate her employment by fall of 1974; that this was volunteered and not solicited; that he asked her to put her decision in writing; that letters of employment were issued to tenured faculty in the usual course of procedure in April or May of each year; that the college did not have a policy regarding written resignations; that official acceptance of Mrs. Gras' letter of resignation was made on December 4, 1972, by the letter offering half-time employment for 1973-1974; and that a ...


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