Uncommon side: The hoodwinked employee — Part II

Most readers responding to Part I of this case feel that Russo has a good chance of winning if he follows through on his threat to sue for breach of promise. As Plant Engineer G.
By Raymond Dreyfack March 1, 2000

Most readers responding to Part I of this case feel that Russo has a good chance of winning if he follows through on his threat to sue for breach of promise. As Plant Engineer G. Drew Butler writes, it appears that Chief Engineer Shifron, in his zeal to retain a promising engineer, went too far in his promises of rewards for remaining with the company. Butler adds, “In some states, on the other hand, employment is seen at the convenience of the employer unless one is covered by federal protections.”

Although Project Engineer Steve Maas believes Russo has a “better than 50% chance of winning,” he feels that the promise of a job for life would not hold, although the commitment to make him a senior engineer within a year probably would.

Reader Allan Zecchini agrees. “No job is for life,” he writes. “But Shifron should not have assured Russo he would get the senior engineer promotion. In my company,” he says, “promises for job advancement or job security are a definite no-no.”

The matter of performance decline, however, raises interesting questions. Was the drop-off documented? Was Russo given adequate notice? Was the reason for the decline a result of the company slowdown? Were steps taken to work with Russo in an effort to reverse the decline?

All other factors aside, explains labor relations specialist, Professor Leonard J. Smith, Russo had the responsibility to perform up to standard. In this regard, the above questions definitely pertain. Smith also makes the point that the decline of business is a clear justification for downsizing, so that Russo’s case is by no means a surefire win.

Well, maybe not surefire, but his chances of winning may be very good, explains Human Side expert, attorney Michael Tricarico. “The crucial element in the case,” he stresses, “is the fact that Russo turned down another job opportunity based on his supervisor’s representations. If not for that, his chances of winning would be slim.”

Laws differ from state to state, Tricarico adds, but due to Russo’s foregoing of another opportunity, he could have a viable case for fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation and promissory estoppel. “The moral of this story,” he concludes, “is as an employer, you do not make promises that you are not 100% sure you can keep. As an employee, always make sure you get employer promises in writing.”