In a recent case, Lapidoth v. Telcordia Technologies, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division allowed an employee’s breach of contract claim against her former employer to proceed, finding that the employer made implied promises of reinstatement in two letters that it sent to the employee during her maternity leave.
Telecordia Technologies, Inc. (“Telecordia”) employed Sara Lapidoth from 1986 to 2006. During her employment, Lapidoth requested and received maternity leaves of absence for the births of all 10 of her children. On June 20, 2005, Telecordia sent Lapidoth a letter notifying her that it had approved her request for a six-month maternity leave of absence. This letter restated the Company’s policy on maternity leave and included a guarantee of reinstatement.
On January 6, 2005, Lapidoth requested another six-month leave of absence until July 21, 2006. Telecordia granted her request and notified her in writing that she was guaranteed reinstatement at the end of her leave. In February of 2006, Telecordia had a reduction in force and eliminated positions in Lapidoth’s department. In June of 2006, Lapidoth advised Telecordia that she would return to work on July 20, 2006. However, there was no longer a position for her following the reduction in force. As a result, Telecordia terminated her employment.
Lapidoth filed a lawsuit against Telecordia alleging breach of contract in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Telecordia filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The trial court granted Telecordia’s motion. She appealed the trial court’s ruling to the New Jersey Appellate Division.
The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s ruling on Lapidoth’s breach of contract claim holding that the letters sent to her “could support a finding that [Telecordia] promised to reinstate [Lapidoth] at the end of her leave.” The Court also explained that: “[D]efendant gave plaintiff nine previous maternity leaves and reinstated her employment at the conclusion of all of them. After this history, a reasonable employee could reasonably interpret the policy as promising reinstatement.”
In New Jersey, various types of communications with employees, including employee handbooks, polices and letters, can be used to form the basis of a breach of contract claim. When drafting communications to employees, employers should be careful to avoid any language that may give rise to an implied promise of continued employment.