The Oregon Supreme Court this month held that a person offered at-will employment may be able to state a claim for promissory estoppel and fraud when the prospective employer retracts the offer.
In Cocchiara v. Lithia Motors, Inc., according to the facts put forward by plaintiff in response to a summary judgment motion, plaintiff was a long-time employee of defendant who, after suffering a heart attack, asked defendant for a transfer to a less stressful position. Defendant offered plaintiff a transfer to a new position, and plaintiff as a result turned down a job offer from another prospective employer. Soon thereafter, and before plaintiff made the transfer, the employer retracted the offer. Plaintiff sued for promissory estoppel and fraud.
The trial court and Court of Appeals held that plaintiff could not state a claim as a matter of law. Because the employment offered to him was at-will and could have been terminated at any time, those courts concluded he could not prove either reasonable reliance on the promise or damages. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding nothing in the law to support the conclusion that "a promisee's reliance is per se unreasonable if the underlying promise is for a contract at will." Reasonableness is an issue for the jury, considering all relevant circumstances. Likewise, the fact that the offered job was terminable at will does not mean as a matter of law that plaintiff cannot prove associated damages.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court held that a securities fraud plaintiff need not prove the materiality of defendant's alleged misrepresentations or omissions in order to obtain class certification. While materiality is a necessary element of a securities fraud claim, the issue before the Court in Amgen, Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds was whether materiality must be proven at the early stages of the case, when the trial court decides whether to allow it to proceed as a class action. The Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit, and resolved a split in the circuits, when it concluded that proof of materiality is not necessary to insure that common questions of law or fact predominate.