Fight Network scraps over employment contract

Editor agreed to terms over telephone but signed written deal with additional provisions

This instalment of You Make the Call looks at whether a written employment contract with additional stipulations superseded an oral contract agreed to earlier.

Krzysztof Rejdak, 37, was hired as an editor and creative director by The Fight Network (TFN), a digital television channel that broadcasts fights, in August 2005. At the time, Rejdak was working for a sport television network, where he had been for seven years.

On Aug. 3, 2005, Rejdak was interviewed for the position at TFN and edited a promotional tape as a test. The chief strategic officer (CSO) and director of programming and production were happy with his performance and the director called Rejdak on Aug. 5. They discussed his title, salary and start date. Rejdak claimed the director offered him the job during the call, while the director said he asked Rejdak to come in to discuss a contract.

On Aug. 8, Rejdak resigned his position at the network, who waived the notice and he immediately went to TFN’s offices to start work. The CSO said he was surprised to see him there so quickly, and later in the day he was given an employment contract, which included a three-month probationary period, health benefits and two weeks’ vacation, none of which had been discussed over the phone. The contract also stated it superseded “all prior discussions and agreements.” After reviewing it with the CSO and director, Rejdak took the contract home and returned it with his signature the next day.

TFN had a party on Friday, Oct. 21, 2005, to celebrate and promote the station, which had gone on the air one month earlier. Rejdak didn’t come to work the following Monday and TFN claimed he didn’t show up on the Tuesday, either. On Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005, TFN fired Rejdak.

TFN said because Rejdak’s three-month probationary period outlined in the written contract wasn’t up yet, he wasn’t entitled to reasonable notice. Rejdak disagreed, saying he had agreed to an oral contract of employment over the phone on Aug. 5 which didn’t include a probationary period and he only signed the written contract because he had already quit his other job and had no choice.
You Make the Call

Was the oral agreement without a probationary period the valid employment contract?
OR
Did the written contract signed by Rejdak supersede any previous oral agreement?

If you said the oral agreement was the valid contract, you’re right. The court found TFN made an offer and agreement over the phone on Aug. 5. Without it, “Rejdak would not have resigned his long-term job on the Monday morning.”

In addition, Rejdak arrived at TFN’s offices on Aug. 8 and he performed work. Though the CSO was surprised at seeing Rejdak there, he didn’t stop him from working, despite the fact the written contract wasn’t signed and finalized yet.

Though Rejdak reviewed the written contract and didn’t raise any concerns about the additional terms, the court agreed with him that at that point he didn’t have a choice but to sign it.

“Rejdak relied on the oral agreement he had entered into with (TFN) when he resigned from his job,” the court said. “Having given up his job and begun work at TFN, he had no realistic choice but to sign the agreement.”

The court considered a principle of contract law where the addition of new considerations constituted a new contract. However, the paid vacation was the statutory minimum and the health benefits were offered to all employees and were expected. These benefits didn’t qualify as new considerations.

The court found Rejdak was offered the job during the phone conversation of Aug. 5 and that constituted the contract under which Rejdak based his decision to leave his old job and work for TFN. It ruled the written contract and its probationary period were invalid and Rejdak was entitled to four months’ notice.

For more information see:

Rejdak v. Fight Network Inc., 2008 CarswellOnt 4521 (Ont. S.C.J.).

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