FordvTrendwest Opinion

FordvTrendwest Opinion - IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE...

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IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON (2002) 146 Wn. 2d 146, 43 P.3d. 1223 BOBBY FORD, ) ) Respondent, ) No. 70699-9 ) En Banc v. ) Filed April 11, 2002 ) TRENDWEST RESORTS, INC., ) a corporation, ) ) Petitioner. ) JOHNSON, J. -- This case involves a lawsuit for breach of an employment at-will contract. A jury found Trendwest Resorts, Inc. breached its promise to rehire Bobby Ford as an at-will employee in a specific position. A jury awarded Ford $235,000 in damages based on his anticipated lost earnings. At issue is whether lost earnings are the measure of damages in a breach of an agreement to hire for employment at-will. The Court of Appeals affirmed the jury award, reasoning there was no relevant difference between discriminatory discharge cases, where lost earnings are the measure of damages, and a breach of an employment at-will contract. Ford v. Trendwest Resorts, Inc., 103 Wn. App. 380, 12 P.3d 613 (2000). We reverse. FACTS Ford began working for Trendwest in 1991 as an at-will employee. Trendwest sells vacation time at a network of resorts in North America. On April 30, 1997, the assistant manager of the 'Upgrades' department fired Ford after he arrived at work smelling of alcohol for a second time. Shortly thereafter, Ford's wife called several management contacts at Trendwest attempting to help her husband regain his job. The Trendwest sales director asked Ford if he was willing to complete an alcohol counseling program. Ford agreed to participate in the program and signed an employee assistance agreement. In exchange, Trendwest agreed to rehire him as an at-will employee in 'a position equal to that which {he} held.' Pl.'s Ex. 1. Trendwest changed Ford's employment status from terminated to 'approved leave of absence.' Def.'s Ex. 30. After establishing a treatment schedule, Ford called Trendwest to establish a new work schedule. The manager of the 'Upgrades' department told Ford he could not return to 'Upgrades,' but offered Ford a position as a telemarketer in the 'Discovery Program,' a far less lucrative position than Ford had previously held. Ford declined the telemarketing position and told Trendwest he did not intend to return to work. Trendwest terminated Ford's employment on July 31, 1997. Ford filed a lawsuit against Trendwest alleging breach of contract, retaliatory discharge, intentional interference with employment, and defamation. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Trendwest on the intentional interference with employment and defamation claims, and Ford voluntarily dismissed his retaliation claim. A jury trial was held on the breach of contract claim. The jury was given instruction 15, offered by Ford, which allowed the jury to award damages based on future lost earnings.1 Trendwest specifically objected to using future lost earnings as a measure of Ford's damages.2 The jury found Trendwest had breached its contract to rehire Ford and
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awarded Ford $235,000 in damages: $85,000 as 'past economic damages' and
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FordvTrendwest Opinion - IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE...

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