Friday, February 15, 2013

Fourth Circuit Finds Disclaimer of Contractual Intent in Employee Handbook Effective

In Scott v. Merck  & Co., Inc., No. 11-1584, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 24461 (4th Cir. Nov. 27, 2012), the Fourth Circuit, applying Maryland law, reversed the district court’s decision regarding a disclaimer of contractual intent in an employee handbook.  In so doing, the Fourth Circuit found that the lower court had improperly analyzed a disclaimer of contractual intent under Maryland law.  The Court went on to explain that “[t]he presence of a clearly expressed disclaimer precludes the employee from proving the element of justifiable reliance on a claim of breach of contract regardless of how readily the employee could satisfy the other part of the analysis.” In other words “proof of the clear disclaimer renders moot any claim that the employer’s discretion was otherwise limited by a policy statement.”  The Court went on to find that the two disclaimers in the employer’s handbook “clearly and conspicuously” informed plaintiff that her employment was at will.  As such, the Court found that the case should not have proceeded to trial, and remanded the matter to the district court to enter judgment in favor of defendant.

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