Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtASHBY
Citation243 Cal.Rptr. 277,197 Cal.App.3d 972
Parties, 124 Lab.Cas. P 57,247 Donald BURTON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. SECURITY PACIFIC NATIONAL BANK, Defendant and Respondent. Civ. B023677.
Decision Date19 January 1988

Page 277

243 Cal.Rptr. 277
197 Cal.App.3d 972, 124 Lab.Cas. P 57,247
Donald BURTON, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
SECURITY PACIFIC NATIONAL BANK, Defendant and Respondent.
Civ. B023677.
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 5, California.
Jan. 19, 1988.

[197 Cal.App.3d 975]

Page 278

Lowell John Dosch, Pasadena, for plaintiff and appellant.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Kenneth W. Anderson, Stephen J. Burns, and Robert C. Leventhal, Los Angeles, for defendant and respondent.

ASHBY, Acting Presiding Justice.

STATEMENT OF CASE

Plaintiff and appellant Donald Burton (appellant) filed a complaint against defendant and respondent Security Pacific National Bank (respondent), a California banking corporation, alleging that respondent wrongfully discharged him from employment. Appellant alleged breach of oral contract, wrongful discharge, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. 1 Respondent answered and thereafter the parties engaged in discovery. Respondent brought a motion for summary judgment or in the alternative a motion for summary adjudication of issues. The court granted respondent's motion and entered summary judgment in favor of respondent finding that appellant had not raised triable issues of material fact. On appeal, appellant maintains

Page 279

that he raised issues of material fact. We affirm the trial court's ruling.
STATEMENT OF FACTS

Appellant was hired by respondent for an indefinite period of time pursuant to an oral agreement as an account reconcilement clerk. He began working on May 9, 1981. Approximately 22 months later, he was given a written reprimand for excessive absenteeism. Appellant alleged that respondent failed to give him oral warnings prior to the written reprimand as required by bank policy.

[197 Cal.App.3d 976] Chris Riggio, appellant's supervisor, stated that two days after the reprimand, Riggio observed appellant reading a confidential personnel book, containing sensitive materials about many employees, such as their salary and discipline history. This book was kept in a file cabinet in a a restricted area. Riggio reported the incident to his supervisor, Paula Armendariz, who then informed Gerald Stephens, the unit manager. Later that afternoon, Riggio , Stephens, and Patricia McKinniss, assistant vice president-personnel officer, had a meeting to discuss had a meeting to discuss the incident. McKinnis then accompanied Riggio to the area in question and examined the book and the file cabinet. That same evening, McKinnis and Stephens determined that appellant should be discharged. The next working day, Stephens told appellant that he was being discharged for his unauthorized entry into a restricted area and for reading confidential materials. Appellant then discussed the matter with an employee in respondent's personnel office. Appellant asserted that he was reading a nonconfidential time record book in a nonconfidential area. After discussing the matter, appellant was told that he could appeal the discharge decision to Lily Fong, respondent's vice-president of corporate employee relations. Ms. Fong listened to appellant's story, discussed the matter with other personnel from the bank, and denied appellant's appeal.

In appellant's complaint, he asserted that respondent concocted the story that appellant was in a restricted area reading confidential material as a pretext for firing him. He asserted that respondent thought appellant was going to file a grievance alleging that no oral warnings were given about his excessive absenteeism, and thereafter respondent created a false reason for his termination.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgments look behind the pleadings to determine if the claims or defenses of a party are sham or without any evidence to support the claim. "The motion for summary judgment shall be granted if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law...." (Code Civ.Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) In order to prevent the imposition of a summary judgment, the disputed facts must be "material," i.e., relate to a claim or defense in issue which could make a difference in the outcome. (Pettus v. Standard Cabinet Works (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 64, 69, 57 Cal.Rptr. 207.) We recognize that summary judgment procedures are viewed as "drastic" (Stationers Corp. v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (1965) 62 Cal.2d 412, 417, 42 Cal.Rptr. 449, 398 F.2d 785; Sprecher v. Adamson [197 Cal.App.3d 977] Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358, 372, 178 Cal.Rptr. 783, 636 P.2d 1121); however, the purpose of a summary judgment "is to expedite litigation by avoiding needless trials" (Barry v. Rodgers (1956) 141 Cal.App.2d 340, 342, 296 P.2d 898). If there are no triable issues, summary judgment is appropriate. We find the court was correct in finding that appellant did not raise any material factual issues.

BREACH OF CONTRACT/WRONGFUL DISCHARGE

An employee states a cause of action for breach of contract if the employee is terminated in contravention of an employment contract. Historically, an employee hired for an indefinite period of time, however, was terminable "at will"

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and had no legal recourse. 2 Recognizing present day economic realities and the reasonable expectations of the parties, recent courts developed legal theories which limit the employer's absolute right to terminate an "at-will employee." These theories include: (1) prohibiting an employer from breaching an implied covenant to terminate only for good cause (Pugh v. See's Candies, Inc. (1981) 116 Cal.App.3d 311, 171 Cal.Rptr. 917; Shapiro v. Wells Fargo Realty Advisors (1984) 152 Cal.App.3d 467, 199 Cal.Rptr. 613); and (2) prohibiting an employer from breaching an implied in fact covenant of good faith and fair dealing contained in contracts, including employment contracts (Cleary v. American Airlines, Inc. (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d 443, 168 Cal.Rptr. 722). 3 The employee has the burden of proving that one of these legal exceptions to the "at-will" contract...

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57 practice notes
  • Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc., No. S062201.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 5, 2000
    ...184; see also, e.g., Wilkerson, supra, 212 Cal. App.3d 1217, 1231, 261 Cal.Rptr. 185; Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 979, 243 Cal.Rptr. 277; Rulon-Miller, supra, 162 Cal.App.3d 241, 253, 208 Cal.Rptr. 524.) Where the employment contract itself allows the emp......
  • Semore v. Pool, No. E006138
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 2, 1990
    ...can be amended to state a cause of action on these [217 Cal.App.3d 1103] grounds. (Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 980, 243 Cal.Rptr. C. Tortious Breach of Contract. Plaintiff's sixth and ninth causes of action purport to be for tortious breach of contract an......
  • Welch v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co., METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 23, 1988
    ...no evidence of bad faith and employer had good cause for discharge as plant was closing]; Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 978-979, 243 Cal.Rptr. 277 [bank employee who was discharged for reading confidential material failed to show bad faith or lack of probab......
  • Swartzendruber v. City of San Diego, No. D013461
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 20, 1992
    ...needless trials' (Barry v. Rodgers (1956) 141 Cal.App.2d 340, 342 [296 P.2d 898] )." (Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 976-977, 243 Cal.Rptr. 277.) The moving party has the burden to furnish supporting documents establishing the claims of the adverse party are......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
57 cases
  • Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc., No. S062201.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 5, 2000
    ...184; see also, e.g., Wilkerson, supra, 212 Cal. App.3d 1217, 1231, 261 Cal.Rptr. 185; Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 979, 243 Cal.Rptr. 277; Rulon-Miller, supra, 162 Cal.App.3d 241, 253, 208 Cal.Rptr. 524.) Where the employment contract itself allows the emp......
  • Semore v. Pool, No. E006138
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 2, 1990
    ...can be amended to state a cause of action on these [217 Cal.App.3d 1103] grounds. (Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 980, 243 Cal.Rptr. C. Tortious Breach of Contract. Plaintiff's sixth and ninth causes of action purport to be for tortious breach of contract an......
  • Welch v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co., METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 23, 1988
    ...no evidence of bad faith and employer had good cause for discharge as plant was closing]; Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 978-979, 243 Cal.Rptr. 277 [bank employee who was discharged for reading confidential material failed to show bad faith or lack of probab......
  • Swartzendruber v. City of San Diego, No. D013461
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 20, 1992
    ...needless trials' (Barry v. Rodgers (1956) 141 Cal.App.2d 340, 342 [296 P.2d 898] )." (Burton v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 972, 976-977, 243 Cal.Rptr. 277.) The moving party has the burden to furnish supporting documents establishing the claims of the adverse party are......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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