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LASCOLA v. US SPRINT COMMUNS.

June 6, 1990

FRANK LaSCOLA, Plaintiff,
v.
US SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS, GARY NELSON, RICHARD SMITH and DAVID DORMAN, Defendants


James F. Holderman, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLDERMAN

JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 Defendants US Sprint Communications ("US Sprint"), Gary Nelson, Richard Smith and David Dorman have moved this court for entry of summary judgment in their favor. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion defendants' motion must be granted.

 I. BACKGROUND FACTS

 The following facts are undisputed. Defendant US Sprint is a partnership engaged in the business of selling long distance telephone services, data transmission services, video teleconferencing services, and other telecommunications services. US Sprint is the successor in interest to a company called ISACOMM and its corporate parent US Telecom.

 US Sprint and its predecessors employed plaintiff Frank LaScola as a national account manager. During most of his employment Mr. LaScola reported to defendant Gary Nelson, regional manager of US Sprint's Great Lakes Region. Mr. Nelson reported to the director of US Sprint's central marketing area, who in turn reported to defendant David Dorman, senior vice president of US Sprint's National Accounts Division. Mr. Dorman's supervisor was defendant Richard Smith, president of US Sprint's National Accounts Division.

 In 1984 Mr. LaScola was working for a company called American Satellite. That same year Mr. LaScola entered into discussions with employees of ISACOMM about the possibility of working for them. Officers of ISACOMM told Mr. LaScola that ISACOMM was an excellent company comprised of "a bunch of straight shooters" (i.e. fair people), that the company offered a lucrative compensation plan, and that the position presented potential for advancement. ISACOMM offered Mr. LaScola a job as a sales executive. He accepted the offer and began work on June 1, 1984.

 Mr. LaScola worked for ISACOMM for over two years. During that time ISACOMM and its corporate parent, US Telecom, sought partners to help finance the construction of a national fiberoptic network. The result of this effort was creation of US Sprint. Mr. LaScola continued on with US Sprint in Chicago with the same job title, salary and responsibilities that he had at ISACOMM.

 In late 1984 and early 1985 officers of ISACOMM began negotiations with officers of Sears, Roebuck & Company ("Sears") for the provision of telecommunications services. Sears had formed a new division called Sears Communications Network ("SCN") which had responsibility for all of the communications for Sears' various companies. As account manager for the Sears accounts in the Chicago area Mr. LaScola scheduled and played a key role in the negotiations with SCN.

 On July 1, 1986 SCN executed an agreement to purchase telecommunications services from US Telecom at a special bulk rate. SCN requested and US Telecom agreed to keep this business relationship highly confidential. After execution of the SCN bulk services agreement Mr. LaScola was assigned solely to the Sears account and removed from his other accounts. Mr. LaScola was paid standard commissions for the sales of telecommunications products and services he made to Sears.

 In September of 1986 US Sprint began work on a project for the design and sale of services to Electronic Data Services ("EDS"), the telecommunications arm of General Motors ("GM"). The project involved a significant business deal for US Sprint, and US Sprint and GM/EDS decided to keep all negotiations between them confidential.

 On September 30, 1986 Mr. LaScola flew to Atlanta, Georgia for a meeting with various representatives of US Sprint and SCN. In the lobby of the hotel where he was staying Mr. LaScola met two US Sprint employees from the West Coast marketing region and suggested that they go to eat at a nearby public restaurant named Chequers Bar & Grill. During dinner in the crowded restaurant the parties mentioned both the GM/EDS account and also the Sears account. Several US Sprint executives sitting at another table in the restaurant testified that they overheard Mr. LaScola make comments about the GM/EDS and Sears accounts.

 Two of the executives related to Mr. Smith and Mr. Dorman what they had heard. Mr. Smith asked Mr. Dorman to look into the situation. Later it was decided that Mr. LaScola should be terminated. On October 8, 1986 Mary Elzy, US Sprint's Human Resources Director, and Mr. Nelson flew to Chicago and told Mr. LaScola that he had been overheard revealing confidential company information. They then fired him.

 After Mr. LaScola's termination Mr. Nelson telephoned Richard Elter of SCN and informed him that Mr. LaScola no longer would be assigned to the Sears account. Mr. Nelson told Mr. Elter that Mr. LaScola had been fired for disclosure of what was considered confidential information.

 Mr. LaScola denies that he disclosed confidential information at the Chequers restaurant. He contends that he was fired because US Sprint did not want to pay him future commissions on the Sears account.

 In November of 1986 Mr. LaScola began employment with MCI Communications, Inc., one of US Sprint's competitors. Three months later he filed his original complaint in this case.

 Mr. LaScola's present, first amended complaint has five counts. In Count I Mr. LaScola alleges that US Sprint breached a covenant of good faith and fair dealing by firing him. Count II avers that US Sprint defamed Mr. LaScola by divulging that he had disclosed confidential information. Mr. LaScola brings Count III against defendants Smith, Dorman, and Nelson for intentional interference with Mr. LaScola's contractual relationship with US Sprint. Mr. LaScola asserts Count IV against US Sprint for certain alleged fraudulent misrepresentations made to him before and during his employment at US Sprint. And Count V is for breach of Mr. LaScola's employment contract with US Sprint.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment the evidence of the non-movant must be believed, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2513, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

 However, when confronted with a motion for summary judgment, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleading, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The party must do more than simply "show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (footnote omitted). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Id., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S. Ct. at 1356.

 Applying these standards defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted. The court shall address in turn Mr. LaScola's claims for breach of contract, defamation, fraud, and tortious interference with contract.

 A. Breach of Employment Contract

 Count V of Mr. LaScola's first amended complaint alleges that defendants breached Mr. LaScola's employment agreement with US Sprint by firing him without cause. Count I avers that US Sprint breached a covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Neither claim is legally or factually sufficient.

 1. Employee-At-Will Status

 Summary judgment must be entered against Mr. LaScola on Count V, his breach of contract claim, because Mr. LaScola was an employee-at-will and thus could be terminated at will -- without cause.

 Under Illinois law a contract with no definite term is terminable at will. *fn1" There are three exceptions to this general rule: (1) when an employee's firing contravenes public policy; (2) when an employee is terminated in violation of particular conditions stated by the parties; and (3) under certain circumstances when there has been a clear and definite oral agreement for permanent employment. Gordon v. Matthew Bender & Co., Inc., 562 F. Supp. 1286, 1294-95 (N.D. Ill. 1983). An employer may discharge an employee-at-will for any reason or for no reasons, except when the discharge violates a clearly mandated public policy. Barr v. Kelso-Burnett Co., 106 Ill. 2d 520, 478 N.E.2d 1354, 1356, 88 Ill. Dec. 628 (1985).

 Mr. LaScola does not contend that his employment contract was for a definite term, but rather admits in his complaint that he was employed "for an indefinite period." (First Amended Complaint para. 57.) This admission creates a presumption that Mr. LaScola was hired as an employee-at-will -- a presumption which can be overcome only by demonstrating that he and US Sprint contracted otherwise. Duldulao v. Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center, 115 Ill. 2d 482, 505 N.E.2d 314, 318, 106 Ill. Dec. 8 (1987).

 In arguing that Mr. LaScola has not overcome this presumption the defendants make much of the provisions of US Sprint's Employee Handbook. However, the court finds US Sprint's Handbook irrelevant ...


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