Employment Law Update: The Fifth Circuit Refuses To Make Inroads Into Texas’ Well-Established Employment-At-Will Doctrine.

In a March 15, 2010 opinion–Sullivan v. Leor Energy–the Fifth Circuit declined to enforce an unsigned employment contract. There, the plaintiff, Sullivan, was in the process of negotiating an employment contract with Leor when he began work as an executive. He was terminated shortly after he began and before the employment contract was ever signed. Nevertheless, Sullivan filed suit against Leor for breach of the unsigned employment agreement. It was undisputed that the agreement could be terminated “at-will,” (even though it had a stated term), so Sullivan sought certain amounts in salary and benefits under the agreement. The district court granted Leor’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that, under Texas law, a contract for a stated term longer than one year is not taken out of the statute of frauds when there is a mere possibility of termination within one year due to contingent events set forth in the contract, including termination by a party and that payment of a salary for services rendered was insufficient to take the alleged agreement out of the statute of frauds because the services were fully explained by the salary without supposing any additional consideration.