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01/06/87 Community Consolidated v. Community Consolidated

January 6, 1987




502 N.E.2d 1312, 151 Ill. App. 3d 710, 104 Ill. Dec. 652 1987.IL.1

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. Milton Wharton, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE JONES delivered the opinion of the court. KASSERMAN and HARRISON, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Viola Ohlemeier, an instructional aide for the defendant school district, brought this action for breach of contract after the defendant notified the plaintiff, on August 23, 1984, that her hours of employment would be reduced one hour per day for the 1984-85 school year. The defendant had previously informed the plaintiff, by letter of May 16, 1984, that she would be reemployed by the school district to work a six-hour day in the upcoming school year. The trial court ruled for the defendant school district, finding that the "employment contract" between the plaintiff and the school district was subject to the provisions of the district's policy manual, which stated that such employment could be terminated by either party upon two weeks' notice and that this ability to terminate the employment relationship included the ability to modify the plaintiff's contract in the way indicated. The plaintiff has appealed from this judgment, contending that the trial court erred in considering the plaintiff's contract to be an "at will" contract and in allowing parol evidence to be introduced to interpret the terms of an unambiguous contract. The plaintiff contends additionally that the trial court erroneously considered portions of the district's policy manual that had not been specifically bargained for and had not been made a part of the letter of May 16, 1984, stating the terms of the plaintiff's employment. We affirm.

The plaintiff has been employed by the defendant school district as an instructional aide for the past nine years. At the end of each school year the plaintiff has received a letter either rehiring her for the next school year or giving her reasonable assurance that she would be rehired for the upcoming school year.

On or about May 16, 1984, the plaintiff received a letter informing her that the board of the defendant school district had voted to employ her for the 1984-85 school year in the capacity of instructional aide. The letter continued:

"Your duties and responsibilities will be those set out in the Job Description made part of the District's Manual of Policies and Procedures. The term of your employment is for 9 months, beginning 8/27/84 and ending on the last full day of pupil attendance for the school year. Your work day will be from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the LaVerna Evans School. Paid holidays will be granted in accordance with District #90 policies."

The letter additionally stated that the plaintiff's salary for the 1984-85 school year had not been determined by the board at that time and that the plaintiff would be notified as soon as salaries were adopted by the board.

Subsequently, by letter dated August 23, 1984, the board advised the plaintiff that because of budgetary restrictions that had not been anticipated at the time the plaintiff was reemployed for the upcoming school year, her normal work day would be reduced from six hours to five hours per day. The letter stated further that there had been no changes in the plaintiff's hourly rate of pay and fringe benefits at that time.

The plaintiff reported for work on August 27, 1984, the first day of full attendance by the pupils, and began working a five-hour day as stated in the letter of August 23, 1984. Later, in October, the board changed its policy regarding paid holidays. On January 14, 1985, the plaintiff filed suit against the school district seeking damages in the amount of $2,500 for the number of hours lost because of the board's reduction of the plaintiff's workday and its change of policy regarding paid holidays.

At trial on the plaintiff's complaint for breach of contract, the plaintiff testified that when she had received the district's letter of May 16, 1984, she had relied upon the board's representation that she would be working six hours per day and had figured both her salary and her retirement and Social Security benefits on this basis. She had gone to work the first day assuming that she had a job with the school district as stated in the board's letter. Sometime in October the board had voted to change its policy, adopted two years earlier, of providing extra paid holidays for non-school days occurring at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Prior to this change, the plaintiff had assumed that she would be paid for these days in addition to the eight paid holidays that were provided as part of her job description.

On cross-examination the plaintiff was questioned regarding the board's policy manual, which provided, in pertinent part:

"Letters of employment shall be written [for non-certified personnel] for the period decided by the Board of Education for the particular position but may be terminated by either ...

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