In 1964, Townsend commenced employment with Harrison. From
1964 until approximately 1975, when Harrison became an
inspection foreman, a collective bargaining agreement governed
Townsend's employment. (T. Fact, ¶ 1).
In 1975-76, Harrison promoted Townsend to inspection foreman,
a supervisory level position. As an inspection foreman,
Townsend did not have an express employment contract and the
collective bargaining agreement no longer provided terms and
conditions of Townsend's employment. Upon his promotion,
Townsend received Harrison's personnel policies and procedures
handbook "Working With GM" ("the Handbook") (Townsend, ¶¶ 2-3).
On each of the days from March 17 through March 20, 1986,
Harrison security guards observed Townsend leaving the plant
before the time Townsend indicated on his time reports for
those days. These security guards did not see Townsend return.
However, several other plant personnel, including one other
security guard, saw Townsend in the plant after Townsend
allegedly left for the day. (Complaint, Exhs. A & B; T. Fact,
Effective March 25, 1986, Harrison discharged Townsend for
falsification of time reports for the week ending March 23,
1986. Harrison officials personally escorted Townsend from the
plant in full view of other plant employees, including some
whom Townsend supervised. (Townsend, ¶ 16).
Shortly after his discharge, Townsend filed for unemployment
benefits with the New York State Department of Labor. On April
23, 1986, a New York State Department of Labor Claims Examiner
denied Townsend unemployment benefits on the grounds that
falsification of time reports constituted misconduct and
disqualified Townsend from receiving such benefits. (Complaint,
On April 30, 1986, Townsend's attorney contacted Harrison by
letter seeking reinstatement for Townsend. On May 27, 1986,
Harrison, by letter, informed Townsend's attorney that Harrison
would ". . . initiate the procedure for using the Open Door
Policy," and that Townsend could ". . . expect a prompt and
thorough review of his concerns." (H. Notice, Exh. C).
On September 8, 1986, after a hearing at which Townsend,
represented by counsel, and other witnesses on behalf of
Townsend and Harrison testified, an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") reversed the unemployment benefits claim denial. The
ALJ concluded that Townsend committed no misconduct finding
that ". . . credible evidence adduced at the hearing
established that [Townsend] did not leave work on the dates in
question but merely went to his vehicle and immediately
returned to his work." (Complaint, Exh. A). On February 10,
1987, the New York State Department of Labor Unemployment
Insurance Appeal Review Board upheld the ALJ's ruling.
(Complaint, Exh. B).
On August 29, 1988, Harrison completed the Open Door Policy
with respect to Townsend. At all levels of review Harrison
sustained Townsend's discharge. (Hamilton, ¶ 6, D. Fact, ¶
2).*fn1 As a result, General Motors' corporate headquarters
notified Townsend by letter of its decision to ". . . support
the action taken by management of Harrison Radiator Division."
(H. Notice, Exh. J.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary
judgment is appropriate where it is shown that ". . . there is
no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." The burden
is upon the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a
material factual dispute. Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(e). Once that burden
is met, the non-moving party ". . . must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). This Court must draw all reasonable
inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H.
Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608-09, 26
L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). However, courts should not be reluctant to
grant summary judgment in appropriate cases since ". . . one of
the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to
isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims," Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548,
2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), thereby permitting courts to
avoid ". . . protracted, expensive and harassing trials." Meiri
v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir. 1985), cert. denied,
474 U.S. 829, 106 S.Ct. 91, 88 L.Ed.2d 74 (1985).
With this standard in mind, this Court now addresses the
substantive legal issues in this case.
A. The New York Employment At Will Rule
New York law unequivocally dictates that, absent an express
agreement establishing that employment is to be for a fixed
duration, an employment relationship is presumed to be a hiring
at will, ". . . which may be freely terminated by either party
at any time for any reason or even for no reason." Murphy v.
American Home Products Corp., 58 N.Y.2d 293, 300-01, 461
N YS.2d 232, 235, 448 N.E.2d 86, 89 (1983) (citations
omitted). New York courts have narrowly construed limits on an
employer's right to discharge an at will employee for any
reason; ". . . absent a constitutionally impermissible purpose,
a statutory proscription, or an express limitation in the
individual contract of employment, an employer's right at any
time to terminate an employment at will remains unimpaired."
Id., 58 N.Y.2d at 305, 461 N.Y.S.2d at 237, 448 N.E.2d at 91.