"Just cause" for firing is deemed to be hollow promise where employer reserves discretion to determine cause
In Brugger v. City of Holland, two Court of Appeals judges upheld the summary disposition of the Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim, even though the City's employment handbook stated that employees would be discharged only for "just cause." Brugger was terminated after filing a harassment report and filed suit, arguing that the City managers lacked just cause to terminate him.
The City argued that since the employment handbook also stated that it would have sole discretion to assess "just cause," Brugger had no contractual right to dispute the City's decision. The Court of Appeals' Republican majority concluded that the contract term "just cause" was a meaningless, hollow promise which did not bind the City and that the court would not "second guess" City Managers' assessment of cause. The dissenting judge, Elizabeth Gleicher, disagreed and would hold that every term in the contract should be given effect; therefore, the Court should be obligated to assure that the City had made a good faith analysis of "just cause."