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August 23, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 91-L-0556. Honorable Patrick J. Dixon, Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication September 29, 1994.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle

JUSTICE DOYLE delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Linda Ahlgren, filed a two-count second amended complaint in the circuit court of Kane County, against defendants, the Blue Goose Supermarket, Inc. (Blue Goose), and David Lencioni, alleging wrongful termination and breach of contract. Lencioni was dismissed with prejudice as a defendant, and the circuit court granted the remaining defendant's motion for summary judgment on thebreach of contract claim. Following the trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion for a Supreme Court Rule 304(a) finding (see 134 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) and this court's dismissal of plaintiff's first appeal for lack of jurisdiction, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her wrongful termination claim. Plaintiff now brings a timely appeal from the circuit court's order granting summary judgment with prejudice in favor of defendant on the breach of contract claim.

The sole issue on review is whether an employee handbook and interoffice memorandum distributed to plaintiff contemporaneously with her promotion from cashier to manager modified her employment status as an at-will employee to one who could be terminated only for cause.

Plaintiff's second amended complaint alleged as follows. Plaintiff was an employee of the Blue Goose Supermarket, Inc., from approximately September 1979 until July 28, 1990. On or about October 6, 1989, plaintiff was promoted from cashier to customer service manager, a salaried position.

Before October 1989, Blue Goose's employment policies were documented in the "Blue Goose Supermarket Employee Manual." The manual contained no job classifications, job descriptions, job responsibilities, or job performance standards.

Sometime after David Lencioni assumed the duties of president and chief executive officer of Blue Goose, he initiated a program for evaluating and defining Blue Goose's organizational structure. On or about October 6, 1989, Lencioni distributed a memorandum to employees describing the company's expectations regarding organizational structure. The memorandum's stated goal was to "produce clear, concise, common sense [sic] statements of store policy, job descriptions and responsibilities, lines of communication, a chain of command, and procedures and goals." The memorandum further advised employees that plaintiff was to assume the duties of customer service manager. It further stated that "until further notice, the Customer Service Manager will report to the President."

Contemporaneous with her promotion, plaintiff was also provided with a new employee manual, a copy of which was attached to her complaint. The introduction page describes it as an informational package "given to you as a courtesy of your Blue Goose Super Market Management Team." It further stated that "your receipt of it justifies our belief of your understanding and acceptance of these policies." According to plaintiff's complaint, a copy of the manual was distributed to all managers and employees. Generally, the new manual provided job descriptions and functions, performance evaluation objectives, and evaluation standards for the customer servicedepartment. The customer service evaluation standards addressed such areas as customer relations, general store knowledge, accuracy, interpersonal relations, and dependability. The evaluation standards for each particular area of concern are generally broken down into three categories: (1) needs improvement; (2) meets standards; and (3) "excels [sic] standards." Within each category is a brief enumeration of company expectations relative to a particular area. For example, under customer relations, an employee who, among other things, demonstrates positive eye contact, facial expression, courtesy towards customers, and does not delay a customer through social conversations meets the standard for friendliness and politeness.

The manual contains no provisions discussing length of employment, the nature of the employment relationship, or tenure. Additionally, there are no general or specific procedures for discipline or discharge of employees who fail to meet company standards, and no employee grievance procedures are outlined. The manual contains no contractual disclaimer.

In her complaint, plaintiff alleged, in part, that the delivery of the manual to her "specifically offered [her] the opportunity to accept a newly established position, and to work in that position within a specifically defined framework of criteria for job security and promotion." Additionally, her complaint alleged that the delivery of the manual combined with:

"the circumstances surrounding the delivery thereof, * * * were reasonably accepted by Plaintiff as a unilateral offer by BLUE GOOSE of a contract of employment in a new position of Customer Service Manager and that absent some more specifically defined limitation on the duration of that employment Plaintiff could reasonably anticipate continued employment in the position offered during good behavior and competent performance."

Plaintiff alleged further that her undertaking the duties and responsibilities of customer service manager constituted her acceptance of the defendants' "unilateral offer" and provided the consideration ...

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