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Wood v. Wabash County

December 16, 1999

CAROL J. WOOD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WABASH COUNTY D/B/A WABASH COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Wabash County. No. 98-MR-6 Honorable James V. Hill, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins

Plaintiff, Carol J. Wood, appeals the trial court's dismissal with prejudice of her complaint for breach of an implied employment contract against defendant, Wabash County Health Department, for failure to state a cause of action. The basis of plaintiff's complaint is defendant's personnel policy handbook, which plaintiff alleges defendant violated by wrongfully terminating her employment. The only issue on appeal is whether the personnel policy handbook contained sufficiently clear promises such that plaintiff would reasonably have believed that an offer had been made and that an implied contract was formed. We reverse and remand for the reasons set forth below.

The essential facts are as follows: Plaintiff was employed by defendant from October 1994 until April 16, 1998. At the time of plaintiff's discharge, defendant's personnel policy handbook, which had been in effect since July 1996, contained a section entitled "Disciplinary Procedure." The disciplinary procedure section stated in pertinent part as follows:

"The following disciplinary actions have been adopted for dealing with violations of conduct and/or poor job performance. They are intended to be primarily progressive, corrective measures and have been designed to insure a smooth running organization in the best interest of employees, the department and its clients. The infractions and disciplinary actions listed are not all-inclusive. Repeated infractions or combined infractions or offenses may result in accelerated or compound disciplinary action as determined by the administrator. The department retains absolute discretion to skip action steps when it is deemed by the administrator to be in the best interest of the department.

Any of the steps listed below may be used as disciplinary measures or in conjunction with a plan of remediation. ***

Verbal Warning: ***

Written Warning: ***

Suspension: ***

Dismissal: The administrator may dismiss any employee for any reasonable cause. Prior to dismissal, the employee will be given written notification, stating the grounds for dismissal, and a hearing will be scheduled with the administrator. All dismissal notices shall be in writing, setting forth the reason(s) for dismissal and the effective date of termination. Each Board of Health member shall receive a copy of dismissal notices. Actions which are causes for immediate termination of employment without warning could include, but are not limited to:

--Refusing to obey a reasonable order of supervisor (pertaining to work);

--Deliberate destruction or damage of department property or property of a fellow employee;

--Falsifying information on department records, employee timesheets, etc.;

--Theft of property of the health department or other employee;

--Willfully falsifying application for employment or other data ...


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