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Mursch v. Van Dorn Co.

decided: July 13, 1988.

BRUCE T. MURSCH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
VAN DORN COMPANY, D/B/A CENTRAL STATES CAN COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 85 C 847--Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

Richard D. Cudahy and John L. Coffey, Circuit Judges, and James E. Noland, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Coffey

JOHN L. COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Bruce Mursch appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-appellee on Mursch's claim for breach of an employment contract. We affirm.

I.

In May 1981, the defendant-appellee Van Dorn Company, d/b/a Central States Can Company ("Central States") hired Mursch as a salesman. According to Mursch's immediate supervisor, Paul Weston, Central States did not agree to employ Mursch for any specified period of time. During his employment with Central States (from May 1981 until March 1984), Mursch's compensation consisted of a salary and profit-sharing payments; he neither received a commission for sales nor did Central States' compensation plan provide for bonus payments.

On his first day of work, Mursch was given a copy of Central States' employment manual. The section of the handbook entitled "Standards We Go By" reads as follows:

"At Central States, as in every segment of society, we have found that there are certain conduct guidelines necessary to provide standards by which we are all guided. For example, a serious fire could put us all out of work. Carelessness and poor work by a few could lose customers and work for all of us. Our employees are responsible adults and are treated as such. However, for the few that need some guidelines, the following items are listed to help you know when and where, disciplinary action will be taken. It is our practice to approach the matter of discipline by trying to correct those who have difficulty understanding or following our guidelines. Conduct inconsistent with the following guidelines or with generally accepted plant practices, may be cause for disciplinary action up to and including termination of your employment.

1. Theft.

2. Refusing to carry out an instruction from a responsible supervisor.

3. Knowingly producing unsatisfactory work.

4. Abusing or destroying company equipment or property.

5. Unsatisfactory attendance.

6. Drinking or being under the influence of any alcoholic beverage on company property at any time.

7. Using, or being under the influence of, or sale of, any illegal drug or narcotic.

8. Immoral conduct or indecency.

9. Horseplay, fighting or possession of a dangerous weapon on company premises.

10. Unsatisfactory work performance.

The above guidelines add up to common sense behavior which is expected of all of us, both at work and elsewhere. They are subject to change as may become necessary; however, we shall strive to keep this list of standards at a minimum."

(Emphasis added). Mursch testified that the only thing he specifically remembers being told when he received the handbook is that the handbook contained everything concerning employee relations, including the company's insurance and profit-sharing programs. Mursch stated that he read the manual the day he received it and thereafter referred to it when he had questions about company policy.

Mursch also testified that at a lunch meeting during his first week of employment, John Howington, Central States' Vice-President of Sales, made a statement to him concerning Mursch's length of employment:

"He [John Howington] was again telling me about how great it was to work for Central States Can and that they had no mandatory retirement and so long as you do your job you can be here until you're a hundred."

Mursch recites that he recalls no other statements being made to him by company representatives regarding his length of employment.

Mursch was under the supervision of Paul Weston for his entire period of employment with Central States. Weston was the company's Director of Sales at the time Mursch's employment commenced and held that position until March 1, 1984, when he was ...


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