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Wallace v. Shreve Mem'l Library - 79 F.3d 427 (5th Cir. 1996)

Rule:

Under Louisiana law, a person employed for an indefinite period is an employee at will. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 1778. Even a person with permanent employment is employed for an indefinite time and thus terminable at will. An at-will employee is free to quit at any time without liability to his or her employer and may be terminated at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all, provided the termination does not violate any statutory or constitutional provision. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2747. Any ambiguity should be construed in favor of employment at will.

Facts:

Plaintiff Mariette Wallace was fired from her library assistant job with defendant Shreve Memorial Library ("Shreve") in Sept. 1992. Wallace filed a lawsuit against Shreve in federal district court, claiming that it violated her Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights by firing her without a hearing. Wallace claimed that under Louisiana law she had a protectable property interest in her job in two ways: (1) the Shreve's employment manual modified her at will employment status, thus providing that she would only be fired for cause; and; (2) she was a permanent classified employee under the Louisiana civil service system. Shreve filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Wallace appealed.

Issue:

Did an employment contract arise between Wallace and Shreve by virtue of the employment manual?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment on the issue regarding the employment; the court certified a question to the state supreme court regarding the civil service issue. The court held that the employment manual did not create a contract between Wallace and Shreve. While there was no per se rule that a contract could never arise from an employment manual, no Louisiana court had ever found a contract in an employment manual. Thus, even in the absence of a disclaimer of contract, the manual was insufficient to disturb the presumption of at-will employment. La. Const. art. 10, § 2, however, provided that all government employees were members of the classified civil service unless excepted, and Wallace's position was not excepted. However, Wallace had not fulfilled the requirements of La. Const. art. 10, § 7, for permanent classified civil service status. Noting the conflict, and that the issue was not guided by clear controlling precedents in decisions of Louisiana courts, the court certified the issue to the state supreme court.

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