may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat.§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
ADC Telecommunications, Inc.,
Filed December 3, 1996
Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, and Remanded
Le Sueur County District Court
File No. C593277
Steven J. Franta, Somsen & Schade, P.O. Box 38, New Ulm, MN 56073-0038 (for Respondent)
William M. Hart, Katherine A. McBride, Shirley O. Lerner, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 4200 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
In this breach of employment contract action, ADC Telecommunications, Inc. (ADC) appeals from entry of judgment in favor of respondent Karen Rybus. ADC argues the trial court erred in denying its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, contending: (1) Rybus's allegedly changed testimony is not competent to sustain the verdict; (2) as a matter of law, ADC's termination policy is too indefinite to form the basis of an enforceable employment contract; and (3) there was no breach of employment contract, as a matter of law. ADC also argues it is entitled to a new trial because the trial court improperly determined the issue of contract formation, rather than submitting it to the jury. We affirm the trial court's denial of JNOV, but reverse and remand for a new trial.
Rybus's claim is not founded on tort, but rather is a breach of employment contract claim arising from an alleged wrongful discharge. It is undisputed that respondent was demoted, not terminated. Under the alleged employment contract, disciplinary steps were only required prior to termination. This creates a material fact question as to whether Rybus's demotion was constructively equivalent to termination under the alleged employment contract. See Feges v. Perkins Restaurants, Inc., 483 N.W.2d 701, 709 (Minn. 1992) (finding the evidence sufficient to support a breach of employment claim where disciplinary steps were required before terminating employees and the employer had offered the plaintiff nonequivalent positions). Likewise, the issue of whether Rybus's alleged dishonesty constituted insubordination under the terms of the employment contract is properly a question of fact for the jury.
Personnel handbook provisions promising employment on particular terms and presented in the form of an offer may become enforceable as part of an employment contract. Pine River State Bank of Mettille, 333 N.W.2d 622, 626-27 (Minn. 1983). The offer must be definite in form and must be communicated to the employee. Id. Moreover, "[w]hether the proposal is meant to be an offer for a unilateral contract with a particular person is determined by the outward manifestations of the parties and not their subjective intentions." Feges, 483 N.W.2d at 707 (quoting Herron v. Green Tree Acceptance, Inc., 411 N.W.2d 192, 195 (Minn. App. 1987)). The decisive question of whether handbook or manual provisions were communicated to the employee in a way that objectively manifests an offer to contract for employment is a question of fact for the jury. Id. Here, the jury must determine all factual questions related to contract formation including: (1) whether the employee handbook incorporates the disciplinary provisions outlined in the personnel policy manual; (2) whether respondent saw the employee handbook provisions on which she bases her claim; and (3) whether the personnel policy manual was communicated to respondent in a way that objectively manifested an offer to contract for employment.
Because the trial court erred by not submitting the contract formation issues to the jury, we reverse and remand for a new trial on Rybus's breach of contract claim.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.