LANSING, Mich. - A Michigan dealership must defend itself against a fired salesman's wrongful discharge suit, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.
In a unanimous decision, the court reinstated Norman Hammett's wrongful termination claim against Ross Moody Chevrolet Inc. of Lapeer.
However, the court ruled in favor of the dealership on an age discrimination claim.
A Lapeer County Circuit Court judge had dismissed both allegations without trial.
The appeals court said a trial is necessary to determine if a former owner of the dealership had promised in 1983 not to discharge Hammett without just cause and, if so, whether there was a legitimate reason for terminating him a decade later.
It found insufficient the dealership's argument that the former owner would never have made such a pledge to any employee.
But the three-judge appellate panel also said Hammett failed to show a valid basis for his age discrimination assertion, or to demonstrate that age was a 'determining factor' in the firing.
It cited evidence that the dealership had detailed 15 'performance deficiencies' dating back to September 1993, and that Hammett did not dispute any of them. He did offer evidence of correcting 11 of the problems before his discharge.
'Even assuming that to be true, we find nothing in the record to suggest that his admitted failure to correct the remaining four deficiencies was not sufficient legitimate grounds for his discharge,' the court said in its May 6 decision.
Nor was it enough merely to 'make progress' toward correcting the remaining deficiencies, it said.
The court called it irrelevant that Hammett perceived that the dealership 'generally sought to replace older employees with younger ones as a matter of policy.'
And it said Hammett had misinterpreted a statement allegedly made by the dealership's business manager after the termination that Hammett was not a manager 'for the '90s.'
Hammett's lawyer, Glen Lenhoff of Flint, Mich., said the suit seeks monetary damages but not reinstatement.
The dealership's lawyer, Norman Christopherson of Flint, said he could not discuss the case or the decision.