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RYNAR v. CIBA-GEIGY CORP.

March 30, 1983

ROBERT RYNAR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CIBA-GEIGY CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Will, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Robert Rynar, a former employee of the defendant Ciba-Geigy Corporation (Ciba), alleges that Ciba owes him $23,375.04 in severance pay and other benefits*fn1 as a result of Ciba's termination of his employment. Our jurisdiction is based upon diversity of citizenship. In an earlier memorandum opinion, we denied Ciba's motion to dismiss Rynar's complaint. Following discovery (including the taking of Rynar's deposition), Ciba brings this motion for summary judgment. (After the announcement of this opinion, we granted Rynar leave to add a second count, based on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended. Rynar's ERISA count is not a subject of Ciba's current motion, and therefore is not addressed in this opinion.) For the reasons stated below, we grant that motion.

I.

The following facts are not in dispute. Rynar was employed by the Communication Equipment and Engineering Company (CEECO) from October 12, 1964 until October 1, 1978, when REN Plastics (REN), which was owned by Ciba, purchased CEECO. (Pl.Dep. at 20, 28, 33) Rynar accepted Ciba's offer (made by Richard B. Peterson, General Manager of REN) to continue in his job as site manager for the Melrose Park, Illinois, and Lancaster, Wisconsin, facilities formerly owned by CEECO. (Pl.Dep. at 38, 41)

Rynar did not enter into a written contract with either REN or Ciba at any time. (See Pl.Dep. at 42, 60) Nor did he receive an employee handbook at any time. (Pl.Dep. at 104-05) Both Rynar and Peterson recall discussing Rynar's working for REN, but neither can recall discussing the specific subject of severance pay before Rynar's acceptance of Peterson's offer. (Pl.Dep. at 39-45; Peterson Aff. at ¶¶ 12 and 13) Within a short time after becoming an employee of REN, Rynar discussed benefits with REN's personnel manager, Loretta Denfield. (Pl.Dep. at 39-45) Denfield told Rynar that REN tended to honor CEECO service for purposes of computing vacation benefits and that employees would be entitled to receive two weeks' pay in lieu of notice upon termination. (Pl.Dep. at 45-48) Regarding severance pay, Rynar recalls that Denfield told him only "that it was available as one of the benefits" but did not discuss with him the qualifications or formula for receiving it. (Pl.Dep. at 50-51) After these conversations with Denfield in 1978, Rynar was not told of any change in these benefits programs. (Pl.Dep. at 108)

In April of 1979, Denfield sent Rynar a copy of Ciba's severance policy because he would be responsible for administering it with respect to the closing of the Melrose Park facility. (Pl.Dep. at 120; Dep.Ex. 1) This policy had been in effect since June 6, 1972. (Dep.Ex. 1) It was revised effective March 15, 1981, in minor and immaterial respects.*fn2 Although Rynar read the policy, he does not recall discussing it with Denfield or anyone else. (Pl.Dep. at 122-23) Rynar knew that the policy was part of a larger "personnel policy manual" but he never had or read any other part of that manual. (Pl.Dep. at 139) After the Melrose Park plant was closed in September of 1979, Rynar continued with Ciba in various other positions. (Pl.Dep. at 51-59)

The portion of Ciba's 1981 personnel policy manual which sets forth Ciba's policies regarding "termination" of employees recognizes various ways in which employment might end. The policy distinguishes among and defines seven kinds of "termination" (resignation, separation for reasons other than cause, separation for cause, discharge, normal retirement, early retirement, and disability retirement), and states that "[a]ll terminations of employment from CIBA-GEIGY Corporation shall be classified" under one of those seven labels. Section 1.2 of the policy defines "separation for reasons other than cause" as:

  Initiated by the Company for reasons beyond the
  control of the employee (e.g., reorganization,
  budgetary cutback, lack of work, relocation of work
  station beyond normal commuting range).

In section 2.5 (and its subsections), Ciba's personnel policy provides for severance pay:

2.5 Severance Pay

    2.5.1 In appropriate cases . . . terminating
    employees with a minimum of one year of permanent,
    full-time service shall be eligible for severance
    benefits as follows:

2.5.1.2 Separation for Reasons Other Than Cause

      Two weeks' pay for each year of Company service:
    maximum payment — 52 weeks. (Note: See ...

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