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01/30/87 Nora E. Duldulao, v. Saint Mary of Nazareth

January 30, 1987





505 N.E.2d 314, 115 Ill. 2d 482, 106 Ill. Dec. 8 1987.IL.89

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. William R. Quinlan, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE MORAN delivered the opinion of the court.


Plaintiff, Nora E. Duldulao, brought this action in the circuit court of Cook County, alleging that defendant, St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center, discharged her from its employ in violation of the terms of an employee handbook. Plaintiff claimed that the handbook, distributed by defendant, created enforceable contractual rights. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion but granted defendant's motion, entering judgment in favor of defendant. The appellate court reversed both rulings. (136 Ill. App. 3d 763, 765-66.) This court allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (103 Ill. 2d R. 315).

Defendant raises four issues for review: (1) Did the employee handbook in this case create contractual terms binding defendant to a particular procedure for terminating plaintiff's employment? (2) Did defendant in fact terminate plaintiff's employment in accordance with the provisions of the employee handbook? (3) Did the appellate court improperly reverse the denial of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment? and (4) Did the appellate court err in deciding the case without oral argument?

Defendant initially hired plaintiff in 1968, and rehired her in 1970 when she returned from a brief stay in the Philippines. In 1971 she was promoted to head nurse, and in 1972 she was named staff development coordinator of the department of nursing. She served in this position until September 14, 1981, when defendant reorganized several of its departments. Plaintiff became human resources development coordinator, a position which she claims was identical to her previous position. Defendant, however, submitted the affidavits of supervisors who claim that plaintiff's new position included new duties and responsibilities. On December 11, 1981, plaintiff was given a sheet entitled "Probationary Evaluation" and also a "Final Notice" informing her that she was terminated as of the end of the day. Both sheets listed essentially the same alleged infractions:

"Unsatisfactory performance was demonstrated by the failure to properly monitor the Legal Implications of Documentation seminar and the Patient Education seminar. Further unsatisfactory performance was demonstrated by failure to follow instructions regarding CPR recertification and monitoring of the Patient Education Seminar."

Plaintiff claims that her termination violated procedural rights she had by virtue of an implied contract with defendant. The terms of this contract, plaintiff claims, are to be found in an employee handbook distributed by defendant. Defendant first published an employee handbook before plaintiff was rehired in 1970. The record before us does not reveal the contents of this initial employee handbook other than the fact that it required two weeks' notice for the dismissal of probationary employees. Plaintiff's deposition reveals that she did not discuss the contents of this handbook during her rehiring interview in 1970, although she became aware of it some time after returning to work, and subsequently used it in training sessions for new employees.

In 1975 defendant published a revised employee handbook. At the beginning of this handbook is the following note, signed by Sister Stella Louise, president of the hospital:

"N.B. The Personnel Policies of Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center are presented in this booklet in a summarized form. Further details regarding any policy may be obtained by consulting the master file in the Personnel Department.

It is then necessary that every employee of Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center be well informed on hospital policy and other pertinent information that will assist him in directing his total efforts toward the best patient care possible. A booklet containing hospital and personnel policy is given to each employee. As a new policy change is finalized, a copy will be given to every employee to be read and placed in his booklet. If a policy needs clarification, your Supervisor or Department Head will be happy to assist you in its interpretation.

Please take the time to become familiar with these policies. They are designed to clarify your rights and duties as employees. Your observance of these policies will produce a safe and pleasant environment in which to work and assure ...

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