After a Chicago investment analyst learned of a colleague’s termination, he took matters into his own hands. He went to a conference room where he knew the firm’s chief operating officer and chief investment officer were meeting. There, he expressed his anger by turning his back on the officers and dropping his trousers and underwear.
The analyst signed a series of agreements over the years, especially after his employer, Wanger Asset Management, was bought by first one owner, then another, and yet another. He had signed an Agreement Letter with Wanger in 2001, which stated that he could not be fired except for “cause,” which would be the commission of a felony, breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, or misconduct that injured the company’s reputation.
One morning in the spring of 2005, the analyst learned that a close friend and colleague had refused to accept a pay cut and been fired. Enraged, he protested the termination by going into a conference room and “mooning” the occupants, including the chief operating officer and chief investment officer.
The officers drafted a final warning letter saying he’d be fired if there were any further instances of misconduct, which the analyst signed. But when the company’s chief executive officer returned from vacation and learned what had happened, he fired Salton.
The man sued for wrongful termination. He argued that according to the 2001 agreement, his conduct had not been just cause and, furthermore, that the formal warning had constituted a contract that the company had now breached. A judge in state court ruled for the company on both charges. The analyst asked the state appeals court to review that ruling.
What the court said. The appellate judge agreed with the state court judge. The analyst’s act had violated any reasonable person’s concept of an appropriate work environment, he ruled, and thus had injured the company. And, the formal warning didn’t rise to the level of creating a contract.