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Big win for at-will employment in California

Courts in the Golden State had been in the forefront of chipping away employers' right to terminate employees at will, a process I documented in my book The Excuse Factory some years ago. But the trend has been in retreat in recent years, and earlier this month the state Supreme Court delighted employers with a ruling (PDF) declaring that when a company tells a worker that employment is at will, it means just that. Per Mike McKee in the Recorder:

Much of [Brook] Dore's case rested on his claim that a letter by Arnold Worldwide executives defining "at will" as a right to terminate employment "at any time" was an implied-in-fact agreement that he could only be fired for good cause.

That argument wasn't a stretch, either. State appellate courts have reached the same conclusion in three other employment cases in the last 21 years.

The California Supreme Court emphatically disagreed, however, and threw out the appellate precedent which had creatively conjured a tenure promise out of the very effort to deny one.
Clay Robbins III, a partner in L.A.'s Magana, Cathcart & McCarthy who represented Dore, said he was surprised by the ruling. He felt there was extrinsic evidence -- such as prior managers being fired for cause and Dore's job being described as a long-term position -- that indicated cause was required for termination.

Robbins said the ruling "gives almost carte blanche power to employers -- in my mind -- to improperly define terms and also gives imprimatur to employers to describe a position in certain ways and basically reverse position once they get [a person] into an employment relationship.

"It's almost like 'buyer beware,' frankly."

Being offered a job, with no guarantee of getting to keep it forever or of it never changing its character. Imagine that.




Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.