Intentional interference with at-will employment contract by supervisor acting out of personal animus: Actionable?

Salsberg v. Mann, 262 A.3d 1267 (Pa. Super. 2021) (en banc), allocatur granted Mar. 31, 2022, appeal docket 7 EAP 2022

Cara Salsberg was an at-will employee of Drexel University working as a tax manager under the supervision of another Drexel employee, Donna Mann. Mann and Drexel’s HR department decided to terminate Salsberg’s employment for alleged deficient performance. Salsberg sued Mann and Drexel, alleging that Mann had intentionally interfered with her contract with Drexel. The trial court granted summary judgment for Mann and Drexel and Salsberg appealed.

On appeal, Salsberg argued that Section 766 of the Restatement Second of Torts, which has been adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, permits an action for intentional interference with the performance of an at-will employment contract.  In a 6-3 decision the en banc Superior Court disagreed, affirming the trial court.  While acknowledging that Section 766 applies to at-will employment contracts, the Court noted that its own decision in Hennessey v. Santiago, 708 A.2d 1269, 1279 (Pa. Super. 1998) held that “an action for intentional interference with performance of a contract in the employment context applies only to interference with a prospective employment relationship whether at-will or not, not a presently existing at will employment relationship.” Slip Op. at 6. The problem with Salsberg’s argument, Superior Court reasoned, is that:

any expectation of continued at-will employment is nothing more than a mere hope: “In Pennsylvania, absent a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, either party may terminate an employment relationship for any or no reason.” Mikhail v. Pa. Org. for Women in Early Recovery, 63 A.3d 313, 316 (Pa. Super. 2013) (citation omitted). …Because an at-will employee may be discharged at any time, for any reason, or for no reason, Salsberg did not have any reasonable expectation of continued employment guaranteed by contract.

Slip Op. at 8.

Accordingly, the Superior Court majority concluded, Salsberg failed to state a cognizable cause of action.

In dissent, Judge Stabile maintained that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s adoption of Section 766, which expressly recognizes an action for intentional interference in the context of employment at-will, requires that the Superior Court overrule Hennessey v. Santiago. As the dissent reasoned:

Appellant has alleged unjustified interference of a third person with her existing at-will employment contract—in this case Mann acting outside the scope of her employment—and the weight of authority remains in favor of allowing a cause of action in these circumstances. … “A third party’s interference with contracts terminable at-will is actionable, because, until one of the contracting parties terminates the contract, the parties are in a subsisting relation that presumably will continue and is of value to the plaintiff.” … “The at-will employment subsists at the will of the employer and employee, not at the will of a third party meddler who wrongfully interferes with the contractual relations of others.”

Dissent at 4-6.

The Supreme Court has granted allocatur. The issue, as stated by Petitioner, is:

Whether Pennsylvania should apply the Restatement Second [of Torts] § 766 to an Intentional Interference claim by an employee at will against a supervisor who acted against that employee, not as an agent on behalf of her employer, but ultra vires and pursuant to personal animus?


For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.