Uncommon side: The hoodwinked employee — Part I

Chief Engineer Joel Shifron was dismayed when he heard through the grapevine that Group Leader Vince Russo had all but decided to accept a job offer from a competitive firm. Russo was a guy he couldn't afford to lose.
By Raymond Dreyfack September 1, 1999

Chief Engineer Joel Shifron was dismayed when he heard through the grapevine that Group Leader Vince Russo had all but decided to accept a job offer from a competitive firm. Russo was a guy he couldn’t afford to lose. Confronting the engineer with the rumor, Shifron asked if it was true.

Russo admitted it was. “You can’t blame a guy for trying to better himself,” he replied.

“That’s true, but management has big things in store for you.” The chief did his best to dissuade him, but Russo had apparently made up his mind.

“Do me a favor,” Shifron asked. “Don’t tell them you’ll take the job until I have a chance to discuss it with Harry.”

Russo reluctantly agreed to hold off for a short time. That afternoon, Shifron called him to the conference room. Jeff Balsam, his assistant, was also present.

“I have good news, Vince. The boss agreed to go along with a 15% raise, effective at once.”

“I dunno,” Russo said, “It’s not the money. The executive who interviewed me assured me that I would make senior engineer within a year.”

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” Shifron said. “Just hold on a little longer.”

Shifron huddled again with Plant Engineer Harry Boggs, and returned to give Russo the same assurance about making senior engineer within a year.

Russo seemed to be wavering. “Why shoot crap with your career?” Shifron reasoned. “What you have here is a sure thing. Your job is good for life. Management has plans for you. With a new job, you never can tell. It could blow up in your face.”

Russo let out a breath. “Fifteen percent? And Harry is serious about making me senior?”

“That’s what he said,” Balsam chimed in. “I was there.”

“Ok, then you’re stuck with me.”

But in weeks to come, the company’s fortunes went downhill. Russo’s work output fell off as well, along with performance throughout the department. He received a termination notice 6-mo later.

Russo was stunned. “You said I would make senior in a year, and that my job was good for life.”

“Maybe so,” Shifron countered. “But this was automatically predicated on sustaining an acceptable level of performance. Your productivity fell below standard.”

“That’s a crock,” Russo replied. “Since the volume of work fell off, there was nothing I could do.” He threatened to sue for breach of promise.

Question: How do you rate Russo’s chances of winning the suit?