Appeal from Superior Court of Benton County. Docket No: 93-2-00956-6. Date filed: 01/03/95. Judge signing: Hon. Duane E. Taber.
Rehearing Denied July 8, 1997,
Authored by Philip J. Thompson. Concurring: John A. Schultheis, Ray E. Munson.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson
THOMPSON, J. The trial court granted United States Testing Company's (USTC) employees' motion for summary judgment awarding them severance benefits under USTC's severance plan. USTC appeals, contending the severance plan provided severance benefits only upon job elimination resulting from a work force reduction. We reverse.
USTC operated a hazardous waste testing facility in Richland, Washington, employing approximately 100 people. In August 1990, it sold its Richland facility to IT Corporation (ITC). USTC's employees were informed of the impending sale and were given the option of continued employment with ITC. Sixty-five of the 105 USTC employees agreed to continue to work as employees of ITC. One employee, Van Pettey, had an employment contract with USTC which was assigned to ITC. The plaintiffs in this case were employees who accepted employment with ITC and began working for it on August 21, 1990. These employees never missed a day of work due to the sale, continued with the same job, at the same facility, at the same or similar tasks, and for almost the same compensation.
At the time of the sale, USTC's severance policy had been in effect since April 1, 1990. The plan provided for severance pay in various amounts depending on the length of the particular employee's service. In order for an employee to be eligible for severance pay, the plan provided:
REASON FOR TERMINATION TERMINATION ALLOWANCE
Work force reduction One (1) week base salary per full year of service, to a maximum of 17 weeks.
Employees with less than one year of service will receive one (1) week severance. Employees will be awarded severance based on service with United States Testing Company, Inc. only.
Unacceptable job performance No severance.
A serious violation of Company No severance.
allowance, policy or practice.
Employees of USTC brought this action to recover severance benefits under USTC's severance plan. USTC and the employees both moved for summary judgment. On October 25, 1994, the trial court granted the employees' motion for summary judgment awarding them severance benefits under USTC's plan.
This court reviews an order granting summary judgment de novo and "engages in the same inquiry as the trial court." Wilson v. Steinbach, 98 Wash. 2d 434, 437, 656 P.2d 1030 (1982) (citing Highline Sch. Dist. 401 v. Port of Seattle, 87 Wash. 2d 6, 15, 548 P.2d 1085 (1976)). The inquiry is "whether there is a genuine issue as to any material fact and whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Marquis v. City of Spokane, 130 Wash. 2d 97, 105, 922 ...