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On April 1, 2011, Michael R. Tettamble, Jr. (“Tettamble”) and TCSI-Transland, Inc. (“TCSI”), signed an employment contract which provided that Tettamble’s compensation would be “$1,250 per week for 52 weeks = $65,000.” Tettamble began employment with TCSI on April 4, 2011, and was terminated less than a year later, on January 27, 2012. Tettamble thereafter brought suit against TCSI for breach of the employment agreement for terminating him prior to the end of the 52-week period. Tettamble sought nine weeks of unpaid wages and benefits.

The trial court found that the employment agreement “clearly and without question set forth the duration of the agreement and compensation …” Accordingly, the trial court held that Tettamble was not an employee at-will, but instead was an employee for a definite period of time — 52 weeks. Ultimately, the trial court found that TCSI wrongfully discharged Tettamble and awarded him nine weeks of compensation. TCSI appealed.

The sole issue on appeal was whether the employment agreement provision — “$1,250 per week for 52 weeks = $65,000” — was a statement of duration, making the contract an employment contract, or whether Tettamble was simply an employee at-will. On appeal, TCSI argued that the language of the employment agreement did not constitute a “contract with a definite term.”

In its decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals noted that an essential element to an employment contract is a statement of duration. “Absent an employment contract with a definite statement of duration, an employment at will is created.” And the law in Missouri “has been well stated that an indefinite hiring at so much per day, or per month, or per year, is a hiring at will, and may be terminated by either party at any time, and no action can be sustained in such a case for a wrongful discharge.”

In support of his argument, Tettamble cited a number of Missouri cases on point. However, the Missouri appellate court found these cases distinguishable because they contained language or reference to a specific time or term of the agreements — for instance, specific dates of employment or service for a “minimum of 18 months.” Tettamble’s employment agreement, the court said, was not sufficiently specific to constitute a “definite statement of duration”:

  • Here, the language “$1,250 per week for 52 weeks = $65,000” merely sets out Tettamble’s salary over 52 weeks; i.e., one year. This language does not reference a specific time or term of the agreement itself. The language is nothing more than an equation spelling out Tettamble’s salary. … The language … does not constitute a “definite statement of duration” to establish an employment contract between Tettamble and TCSI. Absent a definite statement of duration … Tettamble was an employee at will.

In light of its finding that Tettamble was an employee at will, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. A copy of this decision can be found here.