On May 13, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court’s entry of summary judgment in a case involving an alleged breach of an employment contract. Burford v. Accounting Practice Sales, Inc., et al., No. 14-2692 (7th Cir. 2015). The parties had entered into a contract to market and facilitate the sale and purchase of accounting practices. The contract provided that APS could terminate the contract only if Burford violated it, while Burford could terminate any time on 30-days’ notice. Under Illinois law, employment contracts of indefinite duration are terminable at-will by either party at any time. For instance, a contract with an initial term of 12 months that automatically renews every year for another 12 month term, without the need for either party to take action, is of indefinite duration and therefore terminable at will.
However, if an employment contract without a fixed duration provides that it is terminable only for cause or upon the occurrence of specific event, then it is not terminable at-will. Instead, the contract would be terminable only for cause or on the occurrence of the specific event. The 7th Circuit held that the contract was terminable at-will by Burford, but not by APS, who could terminate only in the event of breach by Burford. Because the contract was terminable on the occurrence of a specific objective event, it was not of indefinite duration. Consequently, APS did not have the right to terminate the contract at-will.