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By: Michael Kouskoutis
Florida’s First DCA recently reversed summary judgment in favor of Florida A&M University (FAMU) in a contract dispute with the school’s former head football and basketball coaches.
The coaches both had 4-year contracts with the University, each with a specific end date and permitting early termination only in specific circumstances. Well before their contractual end dates, both coaches received 60 days’ notice of termination, with neither coach having committed any of the terminable offenses listed in the contract. The coaches filed suit, demanding (among others) payment on the remainder of the contracts. On FAMU’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court agreed with the University, that the terminations were justified by the University’s regulations, which permit employee termination upon 60 days’ notice.
On appeal, the First DCA emphasized that FAMU did not use consistent terminology with respect to termination in its regulations and employment contracts, leading the Court to conclude that an ambiguity exists since different meanings may have been intended. Further, because the Court determined that the termination provisions were ambiguous, it also reversed summary judgment on the coaches’ claims for fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation.
As this case awaits trial, employers should be mindful of the terminology used among its employment and regulatory documentation. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Michael Kouskoutis at [email protected].