Pugh v. See’s Candies, Inc.
171 Cal.Rptr. 917 (Cal.App.1981).

Facts:
After 32 years of employment with See’s Candies, in which he worked his way up the corporate ladder from dishwasher to vice-president in charge of production and member of the board of directors, Pugh was fired. He was a great employee who had received awards, promotions, and commendations.

  • He was given no reason for his termination other than to “look deep within himself” to find the answer.
    • His theory was that he was let go because he opposed a “sweetheart” contract between See’s and a labor union where seasonal employees would get paid less.
  • He then sued both See’s and the union for wrongful termination.
    • Although Pugh didn’t have any express, written agreement for continued employment, pretty much every President that See’s had while Pugh was there had a practice of not terminating administrative personnel except for good cause, and one even told him that his job was secure as long he remained loyal.

History:
The trial court granted the defendant’s motions for nonsuit.

Issue:
Was there enough to find an implied-in-fact promise for continued employment?

Holding:
Yes.

Reasoning:
In determining whether there exists an implied-in-fact promise, courts have used a totality-of-the-circumstances approach and considered a variety of factors:

  • The personnel policies or practices of the employer;
  • The employee’s longevity of service;
  • Actions or communications by the employer reflecting assurances of continued employment; and
  • The practices of the industry in which the employee is engaged.

Here, there were facts in evidence from which the jury could determine the existence of an implied promise:

  • The duration of Pugh’s employment.
  • The commendations and promotions he received.
  • The apparent lack of any direct criticism of his work.
  • The assurances he was given.
  • The employer’s acknowledged policies.

Rule: In determining whether there exists an implied-in-fact promise, courts have used a totality-of-the-circumstances approach.