Pugh v. See's Candies, Inc.

Decision Date27 February 1981
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties, 115 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 4002 Wayne K. PUGH, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. SEE'S CANDIES, INC., et al., Defendants and Respondents. Civ. 45149.
Joseph P. Stretch, San Francisco, for plaintiff and appellant

Donald F. Farbstein, Farbstein, Brown & Pillsbury, San Mateo, Phillip J. Smith, Smith, Clancy, Wright & Laws, Oakland, for defendants and respondents.

GRODIN, Associate Justice.

After 32 years of employment with See's Candies, Inc., in which he worked his way up the corporate ladder from dishwasher to vice-president in charge of production and member of the board of directors, Wayne Pugh was fired. Asserting that he had been fired in breach of contract and for reasons which offend public policy he sued his former employer seeking compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful termination, and joined as a defendant a labor organization which, he alleged, had conspired in or induced the wrongful conduct. The case went to trial before a jury, and upon conclusion of the plaintiff's case-in-chief the trial court granted defendants' motions for nonsuit, and this appeal followed.

Standard of Review on Nonsuit

Under established principles, a nonsuit may be granted " 'only where, disregarding conflicting evidence on behalf of the defendants and giving to plaintiff's evidence all the value to which it is legally entitled, therein indulging in every legitimate inference which may be drawn from that evidence, the result is a determination that there is no evidence of sufficient substantiality to support a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.' " (O'Keefe v. South End Rowing Club (1966) 64 Cal.2d 729, 733, 51 Cal.Rptr. 534, 414 P.2d 830; see also Dailey v. Los Angeles Unified Sch. Dist. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 741, 745, 87 Cal.Rptr. 376, 470 P.2d 360.) Applying these principles, we conclude that the trial court erred in granting the nonsuit motions, and reverse.

SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE

We summarize the evidence presented to the jury. The defendant employer is in the business of manufacturing fresh candy at its plants in Los Angeles and South San Francisco and marketing the candy through its own retail outlets. The South San Francisco plant is operated under the name See's Candies, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary corporation of See's Candy Shops, Inc., which operates the Los Angeles plant as well. The stock of See's Candy Shops, Inc., was held by members of the See family until 1972, when it was sold to Blue Chip Stamps Corporation. For convenience, the designation "See's" will be used to refer to both companies.

Pugh began working for See's at its Bay Area plant (then in San Francisco) in January 1941 washing pots and pans. From there he was promoted to candy maker, and held that position until the early part of 1942, when he entered the Air Corps. Upon his discharge in 1946 he returned to See's and his former position. After a year he was promoted to the position of production manager in charge of personnel, ordering raw materials, and supervising the production of candy. When, in 1950, See's moved into a larger plant in San Francisco, Pugh had responsibility for laying out the design of the plant, taking bids, and assisting in the construction. While working at this plant, Pugh sought to increase his value to the company by taking three years of night In 1971 Pugh was again promoted, this time as vice-president in charge of production and was placed upon the board of directors of See's Northern California subsidiary, "in recognition of his accomplishments." In 1972 he received a gold watch from See's "in appreciation of 31 years of loyal service."

classes in plant layout, economics, and business law. When See's moved its San Francisco plant to its present location in South San Francisco in 1957, Pugh was given responsibilities for the new location similar to those which he undertook in 1950. By this time See's business and its number of production employees had increased substantially, and a new position of assistant production manager was created under Pugh's supervision.

In May 1973 Pugh travelled with Charles Huggins, then president of See's, and their respective families to Europe on a business trip to visit candy manufacturers and to inspect new equipment. Mr. Huggins returned in early June to attend a board of director's meeting while Pugh and his family remained in Europe on a planned vacation.

Upon Pugh's return from Europe on Sunday, June 25, 1973, he received a message directing him to fly to Los Angeles the next day and meet with Mr. Huggins.

Pugh went to Los Angeles expecting to be told of another promotion. The preceding Christmas season had been the most successful in See's history, the Valentine's Day holiday of 1973 set a new sales record for See's, and the March 1973 edition of See's Newsletter, containing two pictures of Pugh, carried congratulations on the increased production.

Instead, upon Pugh's arrival at Mr. Huggins' office, the latter said, "Wayne, come in and sit down. We might as well get right to the point. I have decided your services are no longer required by See's Candies. Read this and sign it." Huggins handed him a letter confirming his termination and directing him to remove that day "only personal papers and possessions from your office," but "absolutely no records, formulas or other material"; and to turn in and account for "all keys, credit cards, et cetera." The letter advised that Pugh would receive unpaid salary, bonuses and accrued vacation through that date, and the full amount of his profit sharing account, but "No severance pay will be granted." Finally, Pugh was directed "not to visit or contact Production Department employees while they are on the job."

The letter contained no reason for Pugh's termination. When Pugh asked Huggins for a reason, he was told only that he should "look deep within (him) self" to find the answer, that "Things were said by people in the trade that have come back to us." Pugh's termination was subsequently announced to the industry in a letter which, again, stated no reasons.

When Pugh first went to work for See's, Ed Peck, then president and general manager, frequently told him: "if you are loyal to (See's) and do a good job, your future is secure." Laurance See, who became president of the company in 1951 and served in that capacity until his death in 1969, had a practice of not terminating administrative personnel except for good cause, and this practice was carried on by his brother, Charles B. See, who succeeded Laurance as president.

During the entire period of his employment, there had been no formal or written criticism of Pugh's work. 1 No complaints were ever raised at the annual meetings which preceded each holiday season, and he was never denied a raise or bonus. He received no notice that there was a problem which needed correction, nor any warning Pugh's theory as to why he was terminated relates to a contract which See's at that time had with the defendant union. 2 Prior to 1971, the union represented employees of See's as well as employees of certain other candy manufacturers in a multi-employer bargaining unit, and there existed a collective bargaining agreement between the union and an employer association representing those manufacturers. In addition, there existed for many years prior to 1971 a supplemental agreement between the union and See's which contained provisions applicable to See's only.

that any disciplinary action was being contemplated.

In 1968 the supplemental agreement contained a new rate classification which permitted See's to pay its seasonal employees at a lower rate. At a company meeting prior to the 1968 negotiations, Pugh had objected to the proposed new seasonal classification on the grounds that it might make it more difficult to recruit seasonal workers, and create unrest among See's regular seasonal workers who had worked previously for other manufacturers at higher rates. Huggins overruled Pugh's objection and (unknown to Pugh) recommended his termination for "lack of cooperation" as to which Pugh's objection formed "part of the reason." His recommendation was not accepted.

The 1968 association and supplemental agreements expired in 1971. Thereafter See's negotiated with the union separately, and not as a part of any employer association.

The 1971 agreement expired in 1973. In April of that year, Huggins asked Pugh to be part of the negotiating team for the new union contract. Pugh responded that he would like to, but he was bothered by the possibility that See's had a "sweetheart contract" with the union. In response, someone banged on the table and said, " 'You don't know what the hell you are talking about.' " Pugh said, "Well, I think I know what I am talking about. I don't know whether you have a sweetheart contract, but I am telling you if you do, I don't want to be involved because they are immoral, illegal and not in the best interests of my employees." At the trial, Pugh explained that to him a "sweetheart contract" was "a contract whereby one employer would get an unfair competitive advantage over a competitor by getting a lower wage rate, would be one version of it." He also felt, he testified, that "if they in fact had a sweetheart contract that it wouldn't be fair to my female employees to be getting less money than someone would get working in the same industry under the same manager."

The union's alleged participation in Pugh's termination was in the form of a statement attributed to Mr. Button (the individual who succeeded Pugh as production manager) at a negotiating meeting between the company and the union in June 1973. According to one witness, Mr. Button stated at the commencement of the meeting, "Now we've taken care of Mr. Pugh. What are you going to do for us."

DISCUSSION
A. Historical Background.

The law of the...

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