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Windhorst v. Swift & Staley Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

April 7, 2017

EDWARD RAY WINDHORST, PLAINTIFF
v.
SWIFT & STALEY, INC., DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff Edward Windhorst's motion for partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim against Defendant Swift & Staley, Inc. (SSI). [DN 13.] SSI responded, [DN 14], and Windhorst replied, [DN 15]. Fully briefed, Windhorst's motion is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, that motion is GRANTED.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         For a time, Edward Windhorst was employed as Swift & Staley, Inc.'s Human Resources Manager. [DN 1 at 3.] SSI is a contractor that provides environmental and facilities management services to a number of customers, including the United States Department of Energy. [Id.] ¶ 2014, SSI was engaged in the process of submitting a bid to provide such services to the Department of Energy at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. [Id.; DN 1-1 at 1.] Anticipating that it would be awarded a contract by the Department of Energy, SSI entered into an “Employment Commitment Agreement” with Windhorst. [DN 1-1.] Pursuant to the Agreement, if SSI was awarded the government contract it sought, SSI agreed to employ Windhorst as its HR Manager for a term of three years. [Id. at 1.] The term was to begin on the date that SSI was notified of the contract award. [Id.]

         Per the Agreement, during that three year period, SSI could terminate Windhorst for only three reasons: death, permanent disability, or for cause. [Id. at 2.] The contract defines “cause” as follows:

         The term “cause” as used in this Section shall include but is not limited to the following conduct or events:

a. Dishonest, fraudulent or illegal conduct;
b. Misappropriation of Company property or funds;
c. Conviction of a felony or any other crime that brings the Company into disrepute;
d. Unethical business conduct;
e. Breach of any fiduciary duty to the Company or shareholders;
f. Any conduct that is substantially prejudicial or injurious to the business or good will of the Company[.]

[Id.] Additionally, should SSI elect to fire Windhorst, the Agreement requires the company to “provide [Windhorst] with a written notice which states the reason or reasons for termination.” [Id.]

         The Agreement came to fruition in 2015 when the Department of Energy awarded SSI the contract it sought. [DN 1 at 1.] According to Windhorst, SSI's contract with the federal government has a potential value of $177.2 million. [Id.] However, the relationship between SSI and Windhorst soon soured, and the company terminated his employment on December 11, 2015. [DN 1-3.] SSI's termination letter stated that Windhorst's employment “is hereby terminated effective immediately.” [Id. at 1.] The parties agree that SSI's letter did not state the reasons for Windhorst's firing. [DN 18 at 1.] ...


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