County of Giles v. Wines, Record No. 001371.

Docket NºRecord No. 001371.
Citation262 Va. 68, 546 S.E.2d 721
Case DateJune 08, 2001
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

546 S.E.2d 721
262 Va. 68

COUNTY OF GILES, et al.
v.
D. Chad WINES

Record No. 001371.

Supreme Court of Virginia.

June 8, 2001.


Jim H. Guynn, Jr. (Guynn & Dillon, on briefs), Roanoke, for appellants.

Gregory J. Haley (Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, on brief), Roanoke, for appellee.

Present All the Justices.

HASSELL, Justice.

The primary issue we consider in this appeal is whether a plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support a jury's finding that he had an employment contract terminable only for just cause.

546 S.E.2d 722
We will state the facts and all reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to D. Chad Wines, the plaintiff and recipient of a jury verdict that was confirmed by the circuit court. Atkinson v. Scheer, 256 Va. 448, 450, 508 S.E.2d 68, 69 (1998). Wines was employed by the County of Giles as manager of the Castle Rock Recreation Area from 1994 through 1996. During his tenure with the County, Wines performed his duties well, and he received a significant increase in compensation

In January 1996, four new persons were sworn in as members of the Board of Supervisors of Giles County. On January 2, 1996, Wines received a telephone call from Roger C. Mullins, the interim County administrator. Mullins informed Wines that he needed to attend a meeting of the newly elected Board that day. During the meeting, Larry J. Williams, a supervisor, made a motion to discharge Wines from his position as manager of the Castle Rock Recreation Area, effective immediately. The Board unanimously voted to terminate Wines' employment.

Wines had no prior indication that he would be discharged. The Board did not give Wines notice of its intent to terminate his employment, nor did the Board inform him of the basis of the termination. The next day, as Wines was "cleaning out" his office, Mullins explained to Wines that the Board had discharged him because of personality conflicts and that Wines was "a casualty of poor judgments and . . . personality conflicts within the County and supervisors."

Wines retained an attorney who advised the Board by letter dated January 18, 1996 that the Board's termination of Wines' employment violated his constitutionally protected rights and his employment contract with the County as set forth in the County's Personnel Policy. In response to that letter, the Board convened a special meeting, and Wines was immediately reinstated and simultaneously discharged effective January 26, 1996. The Board did not provide Wines an opportunity to be heard regarding the Board's decision to terminate his employment. The Board also refused to provide Wines with any post-termination procedures.

Subsequently, Wines filed an "amended motion for declaratory judgment and motion for judgment" against the County, the Board, and the supervisors in their individual capacities. Wines alleged, among other things, that the County and the Board (hereinafter the County) breached its employment contract with him because he could only be discharged for cause and that the County violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the County deprived him of a property right to continued employment subject to termination only for cause.

During the trial, at the conclusion of the plaintiff's evidence and at the conclusion of all the evidence, the County made motions to strike the plaintiff's evidence on the basis that Wines was an employee terminable at-will and, therefore, the County was not required to discharge him solely for cause. The County also argued that the individual supervisors were entitled to qualified immunity. The circuit court granted the motion to strike the evidence against the individual supervisors, and that ruling is not challenged in this appeal. The circuit court, however, held that the Giles County Personnel Policy created an employment contract which only permitted the County to discharge Wines for cause, and the court entered an order confirming the jury's verdict of $88,035.45 in favor of Wines and awarded Wines attorney's fees as permitted by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The County appeals.

The Giles County Personnel Policy, which was enacted by its Board of Supervisors, states in pertinent part:

"8-5 Discharges
"An employee may be discharged for inefficiency, insubordination, misconduct, or other just cause. Discharge may be made by the Department Head with approval of the County Administrator in the case of employees below department head level. The County Administrator with the approval of the Board of Supervisors may discharge other employees. A written statement of the reasons for such action shall be furnished the employee and a copy shall be made part of the personnel file of the individual."

546 S.E.2d 723
The County argues that Wines was an employee terminable at-will because its Personnel Policy did not create an employment contract terminable solely for cause. Responding, Wines argues that he presented sufficient evidence to permit the jury to find that his employment contract with the County was terminable only for just cause and that when the County discharged him, it lacked cause to do so. We disagree with Wines

We have stated that "Virginia strongly adheres to the common law employment-at-will doctrine." Bailey v. Scott-Gallaher, Inc., 253 Va. 121, 123, 480 S.E.2d 502, 503 (1997); Lawrence Chrysler Plymouth Corp. v. Brooks, 251 Va. 94, 96, 465 S.E.2d 806, 808 (1996). In Virginia, an employment relationship is presumed to be at-will, which means that the employment term extends for an indefinite period and may be terminated by the employer or employee for any reason upon reasonable notice. Dray v. New Market Poultry Products, 258 Va. 187, 190, 518 S.E.2d 312, 313 (1999); Doss v. Jamco, Inc., 254 Va. 362, 366, 492 S.E.2d 441, 443 (1997); Progress Printing Co. v. Nichols, 244 Va. 337, 340, 421 S.E.2d 428, 429 (1992); Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Harris, 190 Va. 966, 976, 59 S.E.2d 110, 114 (1950); Hoffman Company v. Pelouze, 158 Va. 586, 594, 164 S.E. 397, 399 (1932); Stonega Coke & Coal Co. v. Louisville and Nashville R.R. Co., 106 Va. 223, 226, 55 S.E. 551, 552 (1906).1 In Miller v. SEVAMP, Inc., 234 Va. 462, 465, 362 S.E.2d 915, 917 (1987), we explained that:

"An employee is ordinarily at liberty to leave his employment for any reason or for no reason, upon giving reasonable notice, without incurring liability to his employer. Notions of fundamental fairness underlie the concept of mutuality which extends a corresponding freedom to the employer. See Town of Vinton v. City of Roanoke, 195 Va. 881, 80 S.E.2d 608 (1954)."

The presumption that an at-will employment relationship exists may be rebutted, however, if sufficient evidence is produced to show that the employment is for a definite, rather than an indefinite, term. Progress Printing Co., 244 Va. at 340, 421 S.E.2d at 429. In Norfolk Southern Railway Co., we held that a contractual agreement which stated that an employee "will not be disciplined or dismissed from [employment] without a just cause" created a definite term for the duration of the employment and that the employer could only dismiss the employee for cause. 190 Va. at 969, 976, 59 S.E.2d at 111, 114.

Applying the principles enunciated in our well-established precedent to the facts of this case, we hold that Wines failed to present evidence that he had an employment contract terminable solely for cause sufficient to rebut the employment at-will presumption. Section 8-5 of the County's Personnel Policy does not change the nature of Wines' employment at-will contract with the County. The language upon which Wines relies states that an "employee may be discharged for inefficiency, insubordination, misconduct, or other just cause." This sentence does not state that an employee shall only be discharged for inefficiency, insubordination, misconduct, or other just cause; nor does it state that an employee will not be discharged without just cause. We hold that the personnel policy at issue in this case is not sufficient to rebut the strong presumption in favor of the at-will employment relationship in this Commonwealth.

We note that Wines also relies upon § 8-7 of the County's Personnel Policy which enumerates "Causes for Suspension, Demotion, or Dismissal." However, this section is devoid of any language which changes the nature of the at-will employment relationship between the County and its employees. There is simply no language in this section that limits the County's power to discharge an employee without cause.

We also note that Wines states that this Court has "expressly held that `[w]here the evidence concerning the terms of a contract of employment is in conflict, the question whether the employment is at will or for a

546 S.E.2d 724
definite term becomes one of fact for resolution by a jury.' Miller v. SEVAMP, Inc., 234 Va. 462, 465-66, 362 S.E.2d 915, 917 (1987)." Wines' reliance upon Miller is misplaced because in the present case, whatever conflict may appear in the evidence, the record is insufficient as a matter of law to prove that the County abrogated its employment at-will relationship with Wines

In Progress Printing Co., which is dispositive of this appeal, we considered whether an employee was terminable at-will or whether he had an...

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25 practice notes
  • State v. Mylett, No. 6A19
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 1, 2020
    ...but of the sufficiency of the evidence," State v. Mann, 355 N.C. 294, 301, 560 S.E.2d 776, 781 (2001) (citing Lucas, 353 N.C. at 581, 546 S.E.2d at 721), with the trial court being required to "draw[ ] all reasonable inferences from the evidence in favor of the State's case." Id. (quoting L......
  • Willis v. City of Va. Beach, Civil Action No. 2:14cv652.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • March 6, 2015
    ...indefinitely and may be terminated by either employer or employee, for any reason, upon reasonable notice. E.g., County of Giles v. Wines, 262 Va. 68, 72, 546 S.E.2d 721, 723 (2001). However, Virginia recognizes an exception to the doctrine of employment-at-will “based on an employer's viol......
  • Bonnie Newman Davis v. Rao, Civil Action No. 3:13–CV–239.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • November 12, 2013
    ...sued a defendant under section 1983 arguing that the defendant's personnel policy regarding discharges created an employment contract. 262 Va. 68, 546 S.E.2d 721, 722 (2001). The policy stated, in part: An employee may be discharged for inefficiency, insubordination, misconduct, or other ju......
  • Socol v. Albemarle Cnty. Sch. Bd., Civil Action No. 3:18CV00090
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • June 25, 2019
    ...that the policy provision is insufficient to rebut the strong presumption of at-will employment in Virginia. See County of Giles v. Wines, 262 Va. 68, 546 S.E.2d 721, 723 (2001) (holding that similar policy language indicating that an " ‘employee may be discharged for inefficiency, insubord......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • State v. Mylett, No. 6A19
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 1, 2020
    ...but of the sufficiency of the evidence," State v. Mann, 355 N.C. 294, 301, 560 S.E.2d 776, 781 (2001) (citing Lucas, 353 N.C. at 581, 546 S.E.2d at 721), with the trial court being required to "draw[ ] all reasonable inferences from the evidence in favor of the State's case." Id. (quoting L......
  • Willis v. City of Va. Beach, Civil Action No. 2:14cv652.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • March 6, 2015
    ...indefinitely and may be terminated by either employer or employee, for any reason, upon reasonable notice. E.g., County of Giles v. Wines, 262 Va. 68, 72, 546 S.E.2d 721, 723 (2001). However, Virginia recognizes an exception to the doctrine of employment-at-will “based on an employer's viol......
  • Bonnie Newman Davis v. Rao, Civil Action No. 3:13–CV–239.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • November 12, 2013
    ...sued a defendant under section 1983 arguing that the defendant's personnel policy regarding discharges created an employment contract. 262 Va. 68, 546 S.E.2d 721, 722 (2001). The policy stated, in part: An employee may be discharged for inefficiency, insubordination, misconduct, or other ju......
  • Socol v. Albemarle Cnty. Sch. Bd., Civil Action No. 3:18CV00090
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • June 25, 2019
    ...that the policy provision is insufficient to rebut the strong presumption of at-will employment in Virginia. See County of Giles v. Wines, 262 Va. 68, 546 S.E.2d 721, 723 (2001) (holding that similar policy language indicating that an " ‘employee may be discharged for inefficiency, insubord......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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