Friday, August 12, 2005

S.C. Supreme Court issues employment at will decision

In Cape v. Greenville County School District, the South Carolina Supreme Court was asked to determine if an employee contract for a definite term was terminable at-will, for any time and for any lawful reason, pursuant to a provision in the contract stating that the employment contract was at-will. The plaintiff, a special education teacher, signed a contract with the school district that specified that the term of the contract was the 2001-2002 school year.

For purposes of its opinion, the Court accepted the position of the plaintiff that she was terminated without cause prior to the termination of the school year. Notwithstanding the fact that the contract was for a definite term, the Court held upheld summary judgment in favor of the school district based on the following language in the contract: "THIS IS AN AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT. IT MAY BE TERMINATED AT ANY TIME FOR ANY REASON OR FOR NO REASON BY EITHER EMPLOYER OR EMPLOYEE. EMPLOYEE AGREES THAT THERE EXISTS NO RIGHT TO CHALLENGE TERMINATION OF THIS CONTRACT BY EMPLOYER."

The Court recognized that a contract for a definite term is presumptively terminable only with cause. However, it reasoned that the parties had altered these presumption by including an at-will termination clause in the contract.

(Entry contributed by Sandi R. Wilson)

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