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John A. Russell Corp. v. Bohlig

739 A.2d 1212 (1999)

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John A. Russell Corp. v. Bohlig

Vermont Supreme Court

739 A.2d 1212 (1999)

Facts

James Bohlig (plaintiff) was terminated from his job for his dishonest use of company expense accounts. Bohlig then got a new job and entered a three-year contract to work as an officer for the John A. Russell Corporation (Russell) (defendant), a construction company. Bohlig got Russell’s permission to use its employees and equipment to renovate his house. However, the project got larger and more expensive than Bohlig had represented, and Bohlig did not pay Russell for more than $200,000 of the work. Russell terminated Bohlig’s employment contract early. Russell sued Bohlig for the unpaid construction work, and Bohlig sued Russell for unpaid severance. Bohlig argued that the employment contract gave him 12 months of pay and benefits as severance if Russell ended the contract early. However, the severance provision did not apply if Bohlig was terminated for dishonesty in the performance of his job duties, and Russell claimed that was why it had fired Bohlig. At trial, Russell was allowed to present evidence that Bohlig had lost his previous job due to dishonest conduct. The jury awarded Bohlig only around $2800 for his severance claim. Bohlig appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred by allowing evidence of Bohlig’s prior dishonesty. On appeal, Russell claimed that the prior-dishonesty evidence was admissible because it showed context for Bohlig’s job change to Russell, helped establish the dishonesty element of Russell’s defense, and was not unduly prejudicial.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Johnson, J.)

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