In Taliento v. Portland West Neighborhood Planning Council, Neil Taliento, a program director at Portland West, brought suit against his former employer claiming breach of contract for improper discharge, and alleging that Portland West failed to follow the procedure for termination set forth in its personnel policy. The trial court granted Portland West's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Taliento had failed to establish that he was anything other than an employee-at-will, irrespective of the plain language of Portland West's Personnel Policy and its seemingly binding nature. Subsequently, Taliento appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine. Taliento provided the Law Court with an opportunity to consider whether personnel policies should be interpreted as binding, implied contracts between employer and employee. The Law Court found that Taliento was an employee for an indefinite term and, therefore, was terminable at the will of Portland West. This Author contends that there was, however, an implied contract between Taliento and Portland West. At the very least, an issue of material fact existed that should have been submitted to a jury. The trend in a majority of jurisdictions has been toward limiting the traditional employee-at-will doctrine. There are legitimate reasons why Maine should follow that trend. For example, as a matter of public policy, employers should not have employee handbook provisions and personnel policies that bind only the employees. To an unwitting employee, such policies appear to be binding on both parties and effectively lead the employee into a false sense of security. In reality, the policies are worth little more to the employee than the paper on which they are written. The majority of jurisdictions have recognized personnel policies and employee handbooks as creating an implied contract between employer and employee. These jurisdictions reason that offer, acceptance, and consideration are ascertainable in these “handbook cases.” Although many times employee handbooks contain unilateral offers to contract, they are offers nonetheless. These jurisdictions intimate that if employers want to avoid changing the employee's durational status, they have the option of boldly disclaiming that the policies constitute a part of the employee's employment contract. Maine has gone to great lengths to prevent handbooks and personnel policies from changing employees' durational status. This Author contends that contract principles should be applied with uniformity regardless of the substance of the dispute and especially in these handbook cases in which the elements of an implied-in-fact contract are so readily apparent. It is with these issues of contract law that this Note ultimately concerns itself.
Karen J. Kimball,
Taliento v. Portland West Neighborhood Council: The At Will Doctrine Continues to Thrive in Maine,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol51/iss1/10