A trial court in Maine has denied in part and granted in part a country club’s motion to dismiss in a case where a golf professional claimed he was owed his full salary upon termination.
At issue in the court’s denial of the motion was language in the employment contract that allegedly implied that even thought the plaintiff was only working an eight-month season that he be paid over the course of 12 months.
Ryan Madore entered into a personal services contract with the Kennebec Heights Country Club on March 24, 2003. He alleged that the contract called for him to receive an annual salary of $27,000 for the golf season, which began on began on April 1, 2003 and continued through October 31, 2003. In his complaint, he claimed that he was to be paid over a 52-week period, to receive health insurance and to be entitled to 80% of all golf instruction lesson fees paid.
However, the country club eliminated the plaintiff’s position on October 14, 2003 and that all he received was a two-week severance payment.
The plaintiff sued for breach of contract, unfair employment practice for not paying all wages due him under the contract, unjust enrichment/quantum meruit for services rendered where he has not been paid, fraud and punitive damages.
The parties agreed that an offer of employment was tendered, which offered “an annual base salary of $ 27,000 to be paid on a weekly basis throughout the year.”
The defendant, however, claimed that no set term was established and that the plaintiff was fired for failing to meet the defendant’s expectations for performance.
The court’s key focus on the first three counts of the complaint was on the language of the contract.
“(G)iven that this was an agreement without a period of time as to the term of the contract and taking judicial notice of the fact that golf is a seasonal activity in the State of Maine, the court must ask, why is the compensation package phrased in the manner appearing in the letter? If the plaintiff is to be considered an employee-at-will, why does the contract not contain a weekly or monthly salary? If it was clearly anticipated that the plaintiff was expected to perform services for the defendant during the entire 52 weeks of the year, why does the contract say that he is to be paid ‘on a weekly basis throughout the year?’ Why even phrase the language in an annual salary and require it to be paid throughout the year if not to otherwise qualify the terms of the employment period? Other professions require employment activity during a portion of the calendar year but the employee is paid over the period of the year, such as school teachers, and the like. Phrasing the compensation package as it is in this contract suggests to the court that there is another meaning to the use of the words that may be consistent with the plaintiff’s position.”
The defendant argued that “the plaintiff’s contract had no period of time and therefore plaintiff was an employee-at-will,” according to the court.
The court was reluctant to accept that argument.
“In order for the court to remove this claim from the case, it would have to find, as a matter of fact, that the provisions of the agreement providing an annual salary to be paid over a period of one year was not designed to give an annual salary payable over 12 months for seven months work,” wrote the court. “If a factfinder concludes that that was the case, in October the plaintiff had performed his expected duties under the contract and was entitled to be paid for the rest of the year.
“The claims of unjust enrichment or quantum meruit also rise or fall on the expectations of the parties. If the plaintiff provided all of the services called for in the contract as of the end of October, the equitable claims would be viable. Again, this is a matter of fact.
“The fraud claim requires proof by clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff established that defendant made a false representation of a material fact with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of whether it was true or false for purposes of inducing another to act or to refrain from acting in reliance upon it and the plaintiff justifiably relied upon the representation as true and acts upon it to his damage. Letellier v. Small, 400 A.2d 371 (Me. 1979). If the defendant’s agent entered into the agreement with an anticipation that the plaintiff would perform for the full year at the full year salary, there is no falsity or reckless disregard in any representation made. Further, plaintiff has not presented any facts to suggest that there has been any fraud or
any inducement to enter into the contract and clearly the facts presented by the plaintiff
do not rise to the level of being clear and convincing evidence of a fraudulent action.
“Because this matter is presented to the court clearly as a breach of contract action, punitive damages are not available for breach of contract. Drinkwater v. Patten Realty Corp., 563 A.2d 772 (Me. 1989) and the court has found no tort claim which would rise to the level of damage to the plaintiff anticipated in punitive damages including a showing of malice, either express or implied. Tuttle v. Raymond, 494 A.2d 1353 (Me. 1985).”
Ryan Madore v. Kennebec Heights Country Club; Super. Ct. Mne., Kennebec Co.; Civil Action Docket NO. CV-03-304; 8/28/05
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Sean Farris, Farris Heselton Ladd & Bobrowiecki, Pa, Gardiner, Me. (for defendant) Walter Mckee, Lipman & Katz & Mckee, Pa, Augusta, Me.