Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Alan E.
Morrill, Judge, presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE ROMITI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied July 28, 1983.
While plaintiff was an employee of defendant, a shoe manufacturer, he entered into a written agreement that, to induce employee to remain in its services, defendant would upon plaintiff's retirement at 65 or thereafter, provide certain retirement benefits; these benefits were to be forfeited if plaintiff left voluntarily or involuntarily for disability or other reason or was discharged for proper cause. Thereafter before plaintiff's 65th birthday, he was fired by defendant after he failed to develop nine new shoe designs in about six months. He sued to recover the retirement benefits and lost wages. The trial court held that the contract was an employment contract, that the plaintiff was not discharged for good cause and therefore was entitled to recover the retirement benefits. However the trial court denied the claim for lost wages because plaintiff failed to mitigate damages. Both sides appealed. We find that the contract was not a contract for future employment; therefore, the trial court, albeit for the wrong reason, correctly ruled that plaintiff could not recover lost wages. However the trial court correctly awarded the retirement benefits provided by the contract because the plaintiff did not forfeit those benefits when he was fired, since as the trial court found, the discharge was not for good cause. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
Plaintiff was first hired by defendant in 1936 when he (plaintiff) was 18 years old. First he worked in the stockroom. At that time the company was in the business of manufacturing athletic shoes. In 1938 he learned leather tanning. From 1940 to 1942 he was in charge of the entire shoe factory. In 1942 he left the company to go into military service. In the evenings, at Mrs. Riddell's request, he worked for defendant setting up production because it had no one to do that work. When plaintiff was released from service in 1945 he returned to defendant where he worked until 1975. In 1945 he was plant manager. His duties included scheduling production, looking over purchasing of raw material, checking quality and hiring and training people. Later he became an officer of the company. Although Everett Gordon, chairman of the board of Riddell, testified that even in 1966 plaintiff was unable to properly do his work, he was apparently so well thought of that in 1967 the company presented him an agreement to sign. This agreement, which was given to only three other officers of the company, provided retirement and death benefits. Its relevant provisions stated:
"WHEREAS, the services of Employee, his experience and knowledge of the affairs of Employer, are extremely valuable to Employer; and
WHEREAS, Employer desires that Employee continue and remain in its service and employ; and
WHEREAS, Employer has offered Employee retirement and death benefits as an incentive for him to remain in its service; and
WHEREAS, the parties hereto have agreed to certain terms and conditions in connection therewith and desire to reduce their agreement to writing,
NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the premises and other valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is acknowledged, the parties agree as follows:
(a) Employee may retire upon the first day of a month after his sixty-fifth birthday, or at such later date as may be mutually agreed upon by Employer and Employee.
(b) Upon said retirement Employer agrees to pay to Employee the total sum of One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000.00), payable at the written option of Employee in not less than 120, nor more than 240, equal monthly installments, commencing upon the 10th day following the date of the Employee's retirement, and continuing on the 10th day of each and every month thereafter until Employee has received said total sum in full; subject, however, to the provisions of Paragraph 1 (c) hereof. Prior to the date of his retirement Employee shall designate in writing, on a form to be furnished by Employer, the number of months over which the said total sum shall be paid, and on said form Employee shall list the name(s) of his designee(s), pursuant to the option provided by Paragraph 3 hereof.
(c) In the event that Employee shall so retire, but shall die before receiving a sum equal to the total sum specified in Subparagraph 1(b) hereof, Employer agrees to continue to pay the said equal monthly installments to the person(s) designated in Paragraph 3 hereof, until the total sum of payments made to Employee and ...