Calif. Supreme Court: Employee's "At Will" Contract has Clear Meaning

August 7, 2006 ( - The California Supreme Court reversed an appellate court decision and ruled Thursday that employers do not need a reason to fire employees who have agreed to take at-will jobs.

The case stemmed from the firing of a former vice president and management supervisor at Arnold Worldwide Inc., a Los Angeles-based advertising agency. Brook Dore sued the company for breach of contract when the agency fired him after 28 months without cause in August 2001.

According to the opinion, the section of the offer letter from Arnold Worldwide to Dore, when he accepted the position, read as follows: “Brook, please know that as with all of our company employees, your employment with Arnold Communications Inc. is at will. This simply means that Arnold Communications has the right to terminate your employment at any time, just as you have the right to terminate your employment with Arnold Communications, Inc. at any time.”

Dore claimed that when Arnold Worldwide hired him, the offer letter implied that “at will” termination meant he could be fired for good cause.

The court disagreed and said the meaning in the letter was clear.

“For the parties to specify – indeed to emphasize – that Dore’s employment was at will (explaining that it could be terminated at any time) would make no sense if their true meaning was that his employment could be terminated only for cause,” the opinion stated.

Justice Marvin Baxter issued a concurring and more biting criticism of Dore’s claim, writing that: “No rational person could believe this language meant both parties were obliged to continue the employment relationship except upon ‘good cause’,” he wrote. “The words ‘at will’ and ‘at any time,’ as used in the letter would make no sense if the parties really meant the opposite — that good cause was required for termination.

The opinion   Dore v. Arnold Worldwide Inc. can be found here .