Legal Memorandum: Tortious Interference with Employment Contracts

Issue: May a Delaware tortious interference claim be based on an allegation that a defendant interfered with a contract for employment at will?

Area of Law: Employee Law
Keywords: Interference claim; At-will employment contract; Contract
Jurisdiction: Delaware
Cited Cases: 949 F. Supp. 254
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 09/01/2000

Delaware law is not clear on whether an interference claim may be based on the termination of an at-will employment contract.  Whereas the tort is based on the expectation that, without interference, the contractual relationship will continue, an at-will employment contract does not have any such expectation.  See Shearin v. E.F. Hutton Group, Inc., 652 A.2d 578, 585-89 (Del. Ch. 1994) (exploring doctine and discussing existence of implied limited to its application).  Two judges from the federal district court for the District of Delaware have reached opposite results.  In Park v. Georgia Gulf Corp., Civ. A. No. 91-569 (D. Del. Sept. 14, 1992), the plaintiff sued his employer for wrongful termination and his boss for tortious interference with contract.  With very little discussion, the court granted summary judgment to the defendant, stating, that “[w]here the contract ostensibly interfered with is an at-will employment contract . . . the cause of action for tortious interference does not lie.”  Id. (citing Rizzo v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., No. 86C-JL-88 (Del. Super. Ct. 1989)). 

In Nelson, 949 F. Supp. 254, the defendant supervisor cited Rizzo and Park in support of his argument that a cause of action was stated.  The court, however, reached the opposite conclusion.  It noted first that the Delaware Supreme Court had not addressed the issue.  It then cited secondary authority:

            “Until . . . terminated . . . the [at-will] contract is valid and subsisting, and the defendant may not properly interfere with it.”  Restatement […]


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