Dennis v. Thermoid Co.

Decision Date23 April 1942
Docket NumberNos. 31, 32.,s. 31, 32.
Citation25 A.2d 886,128 N.J.L. 303
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court.

1. The facts examined support a finding that the plaintiff was employed by the defendant on a yearly basis commencing January 1, 1937, and the inference therefrom arises that it was to continue for like periods thereafter.

2. Employment for a fixed term may not be terminated at will without cause.

3. Employment at will differs from employment for a fixed term. The two concepts are inconsistent with each other. Hence, one or the other must fall.

Appeal from Circuit Court, Mercer County.

Action by Samuel K. Dennis against the Thermoid Company, a Delaware corporation authorized to do business in New Jersey, to recover on an employment contract. From a judgment for plaintiff, 19 N.J.Misc. 614, 22 A.2d 535, defendant appeals, and plaintiff cross appeals.


Homan, Buchanan & Smith and Ewald J. J. Smith, all of Trenton, for respondent.

Ellis L. Pierson, of Trenton, for appellant.

BODINE, Justice.

The plaintiff had judgment by reason of his wrongful discharge as Director of Replacement Sales of the defendant company. He was also called an Assistant Vice President.

In contracts of service, when no fixed term is provided, the intention of the parties must be found as a fact from all the circumstances surrounding the employment. Williston on Contracts, Rev.Ed., § 39. The former English view to regard a contract of hiring to be for a fixed term, if it could be so construed, has been followed in this state. Willis v. Wyllys Corp, 98 N.J.L. 180, 119 A. 24; Donnellan v. Halsey, 114 N.J.L. 175, 176 A. 176; Essbee Amusement Corp. v. Greenhaus, 114 N.J.L. 492, 177 A. 562. Contracts of employment are seldom reduced to writing. Frequently a man, long in corporate service, is advanced to a new position with increased salary. In the instant case, such was the fact. The plaintiff was employed for years as Division Manager of the defendant's southwestern branch with headquarters at Dallas, Texas. Defendant's president desired him to become Director of Replacement Sales, which would necessitate his moving to Trenton. He was married, had purchased a home in Dallas and had a circle of friends. He knew the territory in which he had built up the business and was happy and contented in his work. After much persuasion, he took up the new work. He sold his home and moved his family so as to be near the plant.

The plaintiff desired a salary of $7,500 a year. This the defendant would not pay, but agreed to pay him at the rate of $500 a month beginning November 1, 1936, which was to be raised to $625 per month beginning July 1, 1937. The moving and company expenses were to be paid, and a bonus of 1 percent on all increased sales over the previous year and a participation bonus was guaranteed at $1,500 for the year 1937. Thus the $7,500 a year was more than provided for.

The court found that the employment was on a yearly basis commencing January 1, 1937. The proofs support such a finding of fact. Obviously, the parties did not contemplate a temporary employment. The plaintiff had given years of faithful and unstinted work to the defendant company. He was disposing of his home, moving his family to a strange city and undertaking new work in an unknown territory. The defendant was bearing the expense of this change. Surely, it anticipated that the relationship would continue for a long time.

The problem for the trial court, sitting without a jury, was: for how long was the employment to continue? Part of the salary could only be determined when the books for the year were closed. The learned trial court giving weight to this circumstance, and the others mentioned, determined that the contract was one of employment from year to year. Passino v. Brady Brass Co., 83 N.J.L. 419, 84 A. 615. Such conclusion seems reasonable and is supported by the proofs. Certainly, the continuance of the employment beyond the first period gives rise to the inference that it was to continue for a like period. Williston on Contracts, Rev.Ed, § 90.

Much point is made that the bylaws of the company provided that all officers were removable, at any time, with or without cause. Howeve...

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22 cases
  • Dumas v. Auto Club Ins. Ass'n
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • 17 Septiembre 1991
    ...1964) (the same for an agreement for an indefinite term, even though the bonus was payable after a year had passed); Dennis v. Thermoid, 128 N.J.L. 303, 25 A.2d 886 (1942) (a year-long contract is outside the statute although a yearly bonus calculated and paid thereafter); Finley v. Aetna L......
  • Lo Bosco v. Kure Engineering Ltd.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • 11 Julio 1995 look at the circumstances of contracting to fill gaps in an agreement that would otherwise be too vague. Dennis v. Thermoid Co., 128 N.J.L. 303, 25 A.2d 886 (E. & A.1942); 4 Williston, supra, § 4:19 at 429. In this case the Court notes that plaintiff's supposedly at-will employment was t......
  • Bernard v. IMI Systems, Inc.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • 25 Enero 1993
    ...cases in the seventy years since Willis; however, no court in fifty years has explicitly discussed Willis. 1 In Dennis v. Thermoid Co., 128 N.J.L. 303, 25 A.2d 886 (E. & A.1942), the Court explicitly recognized Willis' validity, and held that the facts supported the conclusion that defendan......
  • Kneeland v. Shroyer
    • United States
    • Oregon Supreme Court
    • 16 Julio 1958
    ...v. McHenry, 89 Mont. 520, 300 P. 199; Kendall v. Garneau, 55 Neb. 403, 75 N.W. 852; Berry v. Doremus, 30 N.J.L. 399; Dennis v. Thermoid Co., 128 N.J.L. 303, 25 A.2d 886; Olson v. McQueen, 24 N.D. 212, 139 N.W. 522; Franks v. Reeder, 101 Okl. 18, 223 P. 126; Durfee v. O'Brien, 16 R.I. 213, 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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