Small v. Springs Industries, Inc., No. 22736

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtHARWELL; NESS, C.J., and FINNEY; GREGORY; CHANDLER; GREGORY
Citation292 S.C. 481,357 S.E.2d 452
Parties, 55 USLW 2698, 106 Lab.Cas. P 55,766, 2 IER Cases 266 Kathy L. SMALL, Respondent, v. SPRINGS INDUSTRIES, INC., Appellant. . Heard
Docket NumberNo. 22736
Decision Date21 May 1986

Page 452

357 S.E.2d 452
292 S.C. 481, 55 USLW 2698, 106
Lab.Cas. P 55,766,
2 IER Cases 266
Kathy L. SMALL, Respondent,
v.
SPRINGS INDUSTRIES, INC., Appellant.
No. 22736.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard May 21, 1986.
Decided June 8, 1987.

Page 453

[292 S.C. 482] James H. Watson, Mark R. Holmes and Kenneth E. Young, Leatherwood, Walker Todd and Mann, Greenville, and Christopher S. Barnard, of Legal Dept., of Springs Industries, Inc., Fort Mill, for appellant.

Herbert W. Louthian, of Louthian & Louthian, Columbia, and Thomas C. Davis, Beaufort, for respondent.

HARWELL, Justice:

[292 S.C. 483] Respondent Small sued appellant Springs Industries, Inc. (Springs) for breach of contract. After Small had been employed at Springs for five years, the company issued an employee handbook and distributed it to all of its employees. Springs later issued a bulletin to all employees setting forth in full the handbook's termination procedure. This handbook and bulletin provided for a four-step disciplinary process which consisted of a verbal reprimand, a written warning, a final written warning, and discharge. Small was discharged after only one written warning. The trial judge allowed the jury to determine whether or not the employee handbook, the bulletin, and oral assurances by Small's supervisors that Springs would always follow the handbook's four-step discharge process, altered the otherwise at-will employment relationship. The jury found for Small and returned a verdict of $300,000 actual damages for breach of the employment contract. Springs appeals. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

Small's employment record at Springs is less than impressive. Her record is replete with absences and injuries. Nonetheless, Springs' employee handbook provides a four-step discharge policy for all of its employees. The handbook does contain an exception to this four part process: "[S]ome offenses, such as fighting, drunkenness, and others of an equally serious nature, will lead to immediate discharge without the usual four-step procedure being followed." At trial, Small's boss testified

Page 454

that he had never had any disciplinary problems with Small; she had never come to work intoxicated; and she had never created any fights or disputes.

Under the common law, a trial court should submit to the jury the issue of existence of a contract when its existence is questioned and the evidence is either conflicting or admits of more than one inference. Capital City Garage and Tire Co. v. Electric Storage Battery Co., 113 S.C. 352, 101 S.E. 838 (1920); Benya v. Gamble, 282 S.C. 624, 321 S.E.2d 57 (Ct.App.1984); 17A C.J.S. Contracts § 611 (1963). It was for the jury to decide whether the handbook, the bulletin, and the oral assurances constituted an employment contract. If the jury found that they did, then it had to decide whether or not Springs reasonably could have determined[292 S.C. 484] that Small's actions constituted a serious offense which could result in discharge without the four-step process. The jury obviously determined that a contract was established and that Small's actions could not have fallen into the "serious offense" category. Since Springs admittedly failed to follow its own discharge policy, the jury allowed Small to recover for breach of contract. In a law action that is tried by a jury, our jurisdiction extends only to correcting errors of law. We will not disturb a factual finding made by the jury unless there is no evidence in the record which reasonably supports the jury's findings. Townes Associates, Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 221 S.E.2d 773 (1976).

Springs contends that no employment contract was established and, therefore, Small remained an at-will employee who could be terminated without notice for any reason. Small acknowledges the validity of the at-will employment rule but she contends that Springs altered this relationship and became contractually bound by the employee handbook, bulletin, and oral assurances of her supervisors. Springs contends that no employment contract was established because there was no mutuality or "meeting of the minds" between the parties; the writings did not contain the necessary elements of an employment contract; and the writings lacked reciprocal rights, duties, and obligations.

Springs' analysis might be valid if it were applied to a bilateral contract or agreement. The employment agreement in this case, like most employment agreements, was a unilateral agreement. Springs made an offer or promise to hire Small in return for specified benefits and wages. Small accepted this offer by performing the act on which the promise was impliedly or expressly based. Springs' promise constituted the terms of the employment agreement. Small's action or forebearance in reliance on Springs' promise was sufficient consideration to make the promise legally binding. 1 There was no contractual requirement that Small do anything more than perform the act on [292 S.C. 485] which the promise was predicated in order to legally bind Springs. See Toussaint v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan, 408 Mich. 579, 630-31, 292 N.W.2d 880, 900 (1980). (Ryan, J., concurring).

Unquestionably, Springs was under no obligation to write and distribute the employee handbook or the bulletin. Once Springs...

To continue reading

Request your trial
149 practice notes
  • Branham v. Ford Motor Co., No. 26860.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 17, 2010
    ...to set aside the verdict.' " Sanders v. Prince, 304 S.C. 236, 238, 403 S.E.2d 640, 642 (1991) (quoting Small v. Springs Indus., Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 487, 357 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1987)). In light of the remand for a new trial, it is unnecessary to resolve Ford's claim that the actual damage awar......
  • Hughes v. Oconee County, 2007-UP-461
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 11, 2007
    ...seeking damages for breach of an employment contract has a duty to mitigate those damages.") (citing Small v. Springs Industries, Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 486, 357 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1987)). Baril v. Aiken Regional Medical Centers, 352 S.C. 271, 285, 573 S.E.2d 830, 838 (Ct. App. 2002), an action ......
  • Hughes v. Oconee Cnty., 2007-UP-461
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 11, 2007
    ...seeking damages for breach of an employment contract has a duty to mitigate those damages.”) (citing Small v. Springs Industries, Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 486, 357 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1987)). Baril v. Aiken Regional Medical Centers, 352 S.C. 271, 285, 573 S.E.2d 830, 838 (Ct. App. 2002), an action ......
  • Swanson v. Liquid Air Corp., No. 57358-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 5, 1992
    ...294 (1991); Lukoski v. Sandia Indian Management Co., 106 N.M. 664, 666, 748 P.2d 507, Page 525 509 (1988); Small v. Springs Indus., Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 486, 357 S.E.2d 452, 454 (1987); Cook v. Heck's Inc., 176 W.Va. 368, 342 S.E.2d 453 (1986); Thompson v. Kings Entertainment Co., 674 F.Supp......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
149 cases
  • Branham v. Ford Motor Co., No. 26860.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 17, 2010
    ...to set aside the verdict.' " Sanders v. Prince, 304 S.C. 236, 238, 403 S.E.2d 640, 642 (1991) (quoting Small v. Springs Indus., Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 487, 357 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1987)). In light of the remand for a new trial, it is unnecessary to resolve Ford's claim that the actual damage awar......
  • Hughes v. Oconee County, 2007-UP-461
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 11, 2007
    ...seeking damages for breach of an employment contract has a duty to mitigate those damages.") (citing Small v. Springs Industries, Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 486, 357 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1987)). Baril v. Aiken Regional Medical Centers, 352 S.C. 271, 285, 573 S.E.2d 830, 838 (Ct. App. 2002), an action ......
  • Hughes v. Oconee Cnty., 2007-UP-461
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 11, 2007
    ...seeking damages for breach of an employment contract has a duty to mitigate those damages.”) (citing Small v. Springs Industries, Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 486, 357 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1987)). Baril v. Aiken Regional Medical Centers, 352 S.C. 271, 285, 573 S.E.2d 830, 838 (Ct. App. 2002), an action ......
  • Swanson v. Liquid Air Corp., No. 57358-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 5, 1992
    ...294 (1991); Lukoski v. Sandia Indian Management Co., 106 N.M. 664, 666, 748 P.2d 507, Page 525 509 (1988); Small v. Springs Indus., Inc., 292 S.C. 481, 486, 357 S.E.2d 452, 454 (1987); Cook v. Heck's Inc., 176 W.Va. 368, 342 S.E.2d 453 (1986); Thompson v. Kings Entertainment Co., 674 F.Supp......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Appropriate Use of Employment At-Will in County Sheriffs’ Departments
    • United States
    • Review of Public Personnel Administration Nbr. 34-3, September 2014
    • September 1, 2014
    ...Fed. Appx 191 (2004).Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977).Small v. Springs Industries, Inc., 292 S.C. 481 (1987).Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois et al., 497 U.S. 62 (1990).Upton v. Thompson, 930 F.2d 1213 (1991).Wiggins v. Lowndes County, 3......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT