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Warren v. Tribune Broadcasting Co. LLC

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

March 14, 2017

AMY WARREN, Respondent,

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY The Honorable Wesley B. Powell, Judge.

          Before Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick and Alok Ahuja, Judges.


         Tribune Broadcasting Company, LLC, and Tribune Broadcasting Kansas City, Inc. (collectively, "Tribune"), appeal from a judgment awarding Amy Warren actual damages for breach of contract. Tribune contends the circuit court erred in denying their motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because there was insufficient evidence that a contract was formed or breached and because the statute of frauds barred Warren's claim. For reasons explained herein, we affirm the judgment.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Tribune Broadcasting Company, LLC, owns Tribune Broadcasting Kansas City, Inc., which owns and operates WDAF Fox 4 TV ("WDAF"). In August 2012, WDAF's general manager, Cheryl McDonald, interviewed Warren about becoming WDAF's general sales manager. Warren had been a general sales manager for other television stations around the country since 2001 and had just resigned from that position at another Kansas City station.

         After the interview, McDonald called Warren and offered her the job. During this phone call, McDonald told Warren that her starting salary would be $202, 000 per year and that, in addition to her salary, her compensation would include an annual bonus. McDonald explained to Warren that, if her department "made budget" and "delivered the revenue plan, " then Warren, as general sales manager, would receive a $5000 bonus. Also, McDonald told Warren that there was an opportunity for her to receive an additional bonus for exceeding 101% of the revenue goal. McDonald told Warren to contact Thermal Stewart, WDAF's vice president of finance, to obtain more details about the annual bonus plan.

         After speaking to McDonald, Warren called Stewart. Stewart confirmed the existence of the annual bonus plan and told Warren that, once the 101% of revenue goal was triggered, there was a "formula" that determined the sales manager's bonus. Based upon her conversations with McDonald and Stewart, Warren expected to receive this annual revenue-based bonus, calculated pursuant to the formula, if she met the company's revenue goal.

         Warren accepted McDonald's job offer and began work on August 13, 2012. For the remainder of 2012 that Warren worked at WDAF, the revenue goal was not met, so there was no revenue-based bonus for 2012. Nevertheless, in early January 2013, Tribune's chief financial officer ("CFO") sent McDonald an email notifying her that they were going to give her a sales manager bonus pool of $41, 500 to allocate at her discretion among the sales managers. Of the $41, 500, McDonald gave Warren $12, 000. In the same email, the CFO sent McDonald a document outlining the 2013 revenue-based bonus plan formula for the general manager, department heads and station positions, and sales management positions. This plan provided that Warren's 2013 bonus would be 20% of her annual base salary at 101% of gross station revenue budget, plus 4% of every net dollar over 101% of gross station revenue budget.

         In 2013, the revenue goal was met and exceeded by early September 2013. Pursuant to the formula outlined in the CFO's January 2013 email, McDonald calculated Warren's bonus for 2013 to be $170, 000. Warren was paid a bonus of only $136, 000, however.

         McDonald explained her decision to cut Warren's bonus in a series of emails with Tribune's chief operating officer ("COO") in early January 2014, before the bonuses were distributed. Specifically, McDonald told the COO that she had "already laid out the Sales bonuses" according to the CFO's bonus calculations, but that she did not want to "send [Warren] a strong message of approval by giving this huge bonus, knowing we have these HR issues." McDonald also said that she was "concerned that [Warren] will get the huge check and interpret it as being a great sales manager." McDonald reiterated that "[w]e have decided to 'ding' [Warren]'s bonus and tell her why it was 'dinged'. . . and then if there are any more issues that we have already addressed, she will be told that will lead to termination." McDonald told the COO that she was going to "discount" Warren's bonus by 20%, which was $34, 000. McDonald prepared a document showing the 2013 bonuses that she was planning to give her staff. The document listed Warren's bonus as $136, 164. Beside this number was the notation, "Reduced from $170 to 136 due to performance issues (20%)."

         Three months later, McDonald terminated Warren's employment in March 2014. Warren subsequently filed a petition alleging eight claims against Tribune. After Warren voluntarily dismissed five of her claims, a jury trial was held on her three remaining claims of age discrimination, gender discrimination, and breach of contract regarding her 2013 bonus.

         The jury found against Warren on her age and gender discrimination claims but returned a verdict in her favor on her breach of contract claim. The jury awarded her $34, 000 in compensatory damages. Following trial, Tribune moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court denied their ...

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