Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Ltd.

Decision Date26 September 1997
Docket NumberNos. 96-2827,97-1857,s. 96-2827
Citation126 F.3d 926
Parties74 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1776, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,262, 38 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1199 Harry D. WEEKS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SAMSUNG HEAVY INDUSTRIES COMPANY, LIMITED, Samsung America, Incorporated, an Illinois corporation, Samsung Shipbuilding & Heavy Industries Company, Limited, et al., Defendants-Appellees. Harry D. WEEKS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SAMSUNG HEAVY INDUSTRIES COMPANY, LIMITED, formerly known as Samsung Shipbuilding and Heavy Industries Company, Limited, a Republic of Korea corporation, Samsung America, Incorporated, and Samsung Construction Equipment Company, a division of Samsung America, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Michael L. Flynn (submitted on brief), Downers Grove, IL, Torquil R. Olson (argued), Hinsdale, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Andrew J. Boling, Michael A. Pollard (argued), Peter J. Mone, Nam H. Paik, Baker & McKenzie, Chicago, IL, for Defendants-Appellees in case No. 96-2827.

Andrew J. Boling, Peter J. Mone, Baker & McKenzie, Chicago, IL, for Defendants-Appellees in case No. 97-1857.

Before BAUER, FLAUM, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

BAUER, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Harry D. Weeks filed suit against Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., (hereinafter "SHI"), 1 Samsung America, Inc., and Samsung Construction Equipment Co., alleging racial and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Counts I and II); retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII (Count III); breach of verbal hiring promise (Count IV); promissory estoppel (Count V); and fraud and misrepresentation (Count VI). Weeks' claims arose from his employment with SHI, and stemmed from his belief that SHI engaged in discriminatory employment practices and made numerous fraudulent misrepresentations to Weeks. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of SHI on all counts. In cause No. 97-1857, the district court imposed costs in the amount of $18,952 in favor of SHI. Weeks now appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of SHI in No. 96-2827 and from the district court's imposition of costs in No. 97-1857. We affirm.

Background

SHI is a Korean corporation with its principal place of business in Korea. Harry D. Weeks, an American citizen, began working for SHI on March 18, 1991, as SHI's National Sales Manager for North America. At that time, Weeks was the only salesperson hired by SHI and was responsible for covering all of North America. Weeks' employment with SHI was negotiated exclusively with Chang Il Kim ("C.I. Kim"), who was the general manager of SHI's Chicago office at that time. On March 18, 1991, Weeks received a letter from C.I. Kim, on letterhead from SHI's Chicago office, setting forth the terms of Weeks' employment with SHI. The letter indicated that the first three months of Weeks' employment with SHI would be on a probationary basis, which would give Weeks "the opportunity to decide whether the job suit[ed him] and [would] give[ ] SHI the opportunity to determine whether [Weeks was] the right person for the job." The letter also indicated that the three-month probationary period could be extended at the sole discretion of SHI. After the probationary period was over, Weeks' performance was to be reviewed, and, if it was satisfactory, Weeks would obtain the status of a "regular employee." Weeks was not guaranteed any fixed period of employment with SHI as was clearly indicated by the following paragraph, spelled out in all capital letters in the March 18 letter:

YOUR EMPLOYMENT WITH SHI SHALL AT ALL TIMES BE ON AN AT-WILL BASIS. YOUR EMPLOYMENT WITH SHI MAY BE TERMINATED AT ANY TIME UPON SHI'S SOLE DISCRETION. THIS CONDITION MAY NOT BE MODIFIED EXCEPT BY SPECIFIC WRITTEN INSTRUMENT EXECUTED BY THE OFFICE MANAGER OF SHI'S CHICAGO BRANCH.

The letter stated that Weeks' salary would be $6,250 per month, or $75,000 per year. A one-page attachment to the letter entitled "Job Description" listed seven duties for Weeks' position. Included on the list was "1. All the works as National Sales Manager." At the time Weeks was hired, he was the first and only "National Sales Manager" hired by SHI in North America.

On June 17, 1991, C.I. Kim sent Weeks a written memo informing him that his probationary period would be extended by three months until September 18, 1991. Attached to the June 17 memo was a revised job description which was similar to the March 18 job description except that the reference to performing "all the works as National Sales Manager" was no longer included. In place of the reference was "8. Any work, especially provided by the company, related with Sales & Marketing as Sales Manager." C.I. Kim testified that he did not orally inform Weeks that his title was no longer "National" Sales Manager. During the second probationary period, Weeks and SHI negotiated terms for relocating Weeks and his family from Virginia to Chicago. Also during this period, C.I. Kim advised B.T. Kim, a manager in Korea, that he believed Weeks should be sent to Korea to see "Samsung's advancement/vision, and let him decide whether he wants to work for Samsung."

Weeks was interested in changing the structure of SHI's operations in North America to make it more consistent with the typical structure and organization of American companies. Between June 1991 and January 1992, Weeks came up with a marketing plan which would divide SHI's North American territory into three regions, each having its own regional sales manager. Pursuant to this plan, Weeks would supervise the regional sales managers and have no direct sales responsibilities. In a December 4, 1991 memo, Weeks requested the hiring of more sales managers. He wrote, "C.I. Kim-I have no idea how we can possibly continue to put off all of these dealers who are now saying they are ready to proceed. When can I begin adding the necessary staff to take advantage of the most serious inquiries???" On January 21, 1992, C.I. Kim responded with an "Announcement" of the following changes in SHI's internal operating structure:

Although one person has been in charge of the sales and marketing department, this department will be divided into three territories in order to reduce the workload: West, Southeast and West Central-Northeast. Each territory will have one individual who will be in charge of and be responsible for such territory. The head of each territory shall report on operations directly to Chang Il Kim, the Manager of the Oak Brook Terrace office.

Harry D. Weeks will be in charge of the West Central-Northeast territory. Harry Weeks shall coordinate and ensure that all necessary sales strategies and financing programs of SHI are properly implemented.

SHI will appoint an individual to be in charge of all three territories for the sales and marketing department whenever it believes that such an appointment is necessary from a business standpoint.

Weeks remained stationed in Chicago, and his compensation, office and other amenities did not change as a result of the restructuring.

On January 21, 1992, Weeks, John Johnson, and John Krett, three North American managers, sent a memo to Y.M. Kim, the Senior Executive Managing Director in Korea, expressing discomfort and concern with the restructuring, and informing the Korean operation of what was occurring in Chicago. The managers had just returned from the American Equipment Dealers' national convention, where they had explained SHI's organizational structure to prospective dealers in an attempt to gain new business for SHI. The January 21 memo explained that because they had not known about the restructuring when they represented SHI at the convention in over thirty-five presentations, they felt that they "clearly misrepresented [themselves] as well as Samsung." The memo continued, "In America this is against the law. We can be sued personally as well as corporately." The memo also expressed the view that the restructuring was not a plan that would have success or had worked in the past for American equipment manufacturers. The memo informed upper management in Korea that the three American managers felt they had been misled by C.I. Kim during their initial interviews, and it stated that C.I. Kim "promised top management positions to all of us during our initial interview." The memo also accused C.I. Kim of being an "inexperienced, egotistical manager who has no experience or knowledge of the construction equipment market." The memo concluded, "If Samsung is to truly be a world-class manufacturer, it must rely on local management of each country it does business in. We respectfully request that you give this matter your attention before everything that we have built this last year is destroyed."

On January 24, 1992, Weeks sent a memo to American management, including C.I. Kim, explaining his view that North America needed to be divided into territories and that the overall structure needed to be coordinated and administered by one person--a North American Sales Manager. Weeks wrote:

I have tried to explain that the North American Sales Manager position is what I thought the position was that I was being hired for by Samsung Heavy Industries. I also now better understand the corporate structure at Samsung Heavy Industries. In our discussions with you we tried to explain the need for Samsung to present itself in North America as a Westernized company. This is the only way to gain acceptance in this market.

Weeks' memo also expressed his belief that the necessary support for new field people could only come from an "American" Sales Manager.

On February 6, 1992, in response to the American managers' memo to the Korean executives, C.I. Kim sent letters to Weeks, Johnson, and Krett. He admonished them for sending the memo to Korea without first obtaining his...

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