United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
SARAH A. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
THE HERTZ CORPORATION, Defendant.
TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
[Doc. No. 15], filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Defendant
Hertz Corporation (“Hertz”) seeks a judgment as a
matter of law on Plaintiff's claims for breach of an
employment contract and for unpaid wages. The Motion is fully
briefed and ripe for decision. For the reasons that follow,
the Court grants summary judgment to Hertz.
Sarah Roberts brought suit in state court against her former
employer, Hertz, asserting two claims under Oklahoma law: 1)
that Hertz breached an implied contract of employment by
terminating her without providing progressive discipline or
other procedural protections to which she was entitled; and
2) that Hertz failed to pay her earned wages as required by
Okla. Stat. tit. 40, § 165.3, in that she was entitled
to a lump sum payment upon termination of unused vacation pay
and vested pension benefits. Hertz timely removed the case to
federal court based on diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332. Following discovery, Hertz now seeks summary
judgment in its favor on all claims.
does not oppose the Motion with respect to her claim for
unpaid wages. She both fails to dispute Defendant's
statement of facts regarding this claim, and affirmatively
states that she “will be filing a stipulation of
dismissal regarding her claim of failure to pay unpaid wages
as a result of the evidence presented by Hertz.”
See Pl.'s Resp. Br. [Doc. No. 20] at 25.
Although no stipulation of dismissal has been filed, the
Court finds that Hertz is entitled to summary judgment on
this claim for the reasons set forth in its Motion. Thus, the
Court addresses only Plaintiff's breach of contract
judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either
party. Id. at 255. All facts and reasonable
inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
nonmovant. Id. If a party who would bear the burden
of proof at trial lacks sufficient evidence on an essential
element of its claim or defense, all other factual issues
concerning the claim or defense become immaterial.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
movant bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a
dispute of material fact warranting summary judgment.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant carries
this burden, the nonmovant must then go beyond the pleadings
and “set forth specific facts” that would be
admissible in evidence and that show a genuine issue for
trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248;
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Adler v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998).
“To accomplish this, the facts must be identified by
reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific
exhibits incorporated therein.” Adler, 144
F.3d at 671; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A).
The Court's inquiry is whether the facts and evidence
identified by the parties present “a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.
of Undisputed Facts
hired Plaintiff as an at-will employee without a written
employment contract. Plaintiff received a copy of an employee
handbook that reaffirmed her at-will status, and contained
multiple disclaimers of Hertz's intent to establish an
employment contract except by a written agreement signed by
the corporation's chairman or chief executive officer.
Although the handbook discussed rules of conduct and
illustrative bases for discipline or discharge, it did not
contain a progressive discipline policy. Plaintiff's
claim that an implied contract existed is not based on the
handbook, but is based on the disciplinary practices of Hertz
and a PowerPoint presentation for supervisors that was used
for training and instructional purposes. The PowerPoint,
entitled “Performance Monitoring, ”
“cover[s] policies that supervisors encounter daily and
explains disciplinary steps that should be taken when
employees aren't meeting standards or abiding by
policies.” See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. G
[Doc. No. 15-7] at 1. Included in the steps were periodic
performance reviews, job performance and behavior warnings,
use of a performance improvement plan, and a termination
checklist, with sample warning letters and forms. See
id. at 20-33. Plaintiff “admits that her claim is
based upon the PowerPoint presentation that lays out the
behavior and non-behavioral discipline process prior to
possible termination.” See Pl.'s Resp. Br.
at 9 (response to ¶¶ 13-16).
essential element of Plaintiff's claim is the existence
of an implied contract with Hertz arising from the PowerPoint
presentation and supervisory training. The terms of the
alleged contract are unclear, other than an expectation that
Hertz would provide some sort of notice or warning and an
opportunity to respond to an alleged deficiency prior to
termination. See Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 17-18.
Plaintiff does not allege that the implied contract, if
proven, placed any substantive restriction on the at-will
nature of her employment; she advocates for a finding
“of implied contractual rights to the use of the
procedures” contained in Hertz's instructions and
guidance to supervisors. See id. at 19 (quoting
Johnson v. Nasca, 802 P.2d 1294, 1297 (Okla.Civ.App.
Oklahoma law, “[a]lthough the existence of an implied
contract generally presents an issue of fact, if the alleged
promises are nothing more than vague assurances the issue can
be decided as a matter of law. This is so because in order to
create an implied contract the promises must be
definite.” Russell v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs,
952 P.2d 492, 502 (Okla. 1997) (footnotes omitted);
accord Hayes v, Eateries, Inc., 905 P.2d 778, 783
(Okla. 1995); see Bowen v. Income Prod'g Mgmt. of
Okla., Inc., 202 F.3d 1282, 1284 (10th Cir. 2000)
(applying Oklahoma law). As explained by the Oklahoma Supreme
Only when the promises are definite and, thus, of the sort
which may be reasonably or justifiably relied on by the
employee, will a contract claim be viable, not when the
employee relies on only vague assurances that no reasonable
person would justifiably rely upon. There is, thus, an
objective component to the nature of such a contract claim in
the form of definite and specific promises by the employer
sufficient to substantively restrict the reasons for
Hayes, 905 P.2d at 783. The Tenth Circuit, applying
Hayes, has emphasized: “Employer guarantees
are merely ‘vague assurances' unless they place
substantive restrictions on the reasons an employer
my a terminate an employee.” Bowen, 202 F.3d
at 1284 (emphasis on original). Here, as in Hayes,
905 P.2d at 783, Plaintiff fails to allege or show “any
such substantive restrictions or definite or specific
promises” on the part of Hertz. ...