483 N.E.2d 150 (Ohio 1985), 84-1682, Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co.

Docket Nº:84-1682.
Citation:483 N.E.2d 150, 19 Ohio St.3d 100
Opinion Judge:CELEBREZZE, C.J.
Party Name:MERS, Appellant, v. DISPATCH PRINTING COMPANY et al., Appellees.
Attorney:Thomas M. Tyack & Assoc. Co., L.P.A., and Mark A. Serrott, Columbus, for appellant., Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Mark S. Coco and Gary D. Begeman, Columbus, for appellees. Thomas M. Tyack & Assoc. Co., L.P.A., and Mark A. Serrott, for appellant., Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Mark S. Coco and Gary ...
Judge Panel:SWEENEY, LOCHER, CLIFFORD F. BROWN, DOUGLAS and WRIGHT, JJ., concur. HOLMES, J., dissents. DOUGLAS, Justice, concurring. HOLMES, Justice, dissenting.
Case Date:August 09, 1985
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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Page 150

483 N.E.2d 150 (Ohio 1985)

19 Ohio St.3d 100

MERS, Appellant,

v.

DISPATCH PRINTING COMPANY et al., Appellees.

No. 84-1682.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

August 9, 1985

Page 151

Syllabus by the Court

1. Unless otherwise agreed, either party to an oral employment-at-will employment agreement may terminate the employment relationship for any reason which is not contrary to law. [19 Ohio St.3d 101]

2. The facts and circumstances surrounding an oral employment-at-will agreement, including the character of the employment, custom, the course of dealing between the parties, company policy, or any other fact which may illuminate the

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question, can be considered by the trier of fact in order to determine the agreement's explicit and implicit terms concerning discharge.

3. The doctrine of promissory estoppel is applicable and binding to oral at-will employment agreements. The test in such cases is whether the employer should have reasonably expected its representation to be relied upon by its employee and, if so, whether the expected action or forbearance actually resulted and was detrimental to the employee.

Appellant, William Mers, worked as a traveling representative of appellee Dispatch Printing Company ("Dispatch") for nearly four years, when, on April 20, 1982, he was arrested for the crimes of rape, kidnapping, and gross sexual imposition. He was suspended from his job on April 29 without pay because of the accusations, until such time as the criminal charges would be favorably resolved. The trial resulted in a hung jury. The court overruled a motion for acquittal. Nevertheless, the charges were dismissed because the alleged victim no longer desired to prosecute the case.

The Dispatch subsequently notified Mers that he would not be reinstated and terminated his employment. Appellant filed suit against the Dispatch and two of his supervisors, also appellees herein, alleging that under the terms of his oral employment agreement he was improperly fired. Appellant essentially argued that his good employment record, oral promises made to him by the Dispatch's agents at the time of hiring and suspension, dismissal of the criminal charges, provisions in the company's handbook, and the Dispatch's failure to follow its own published internal grievance procedures, all combined to provide grounds for this action. Mers theorized that he was entitled to relief either on a breach-of-contract or promissory-estoppel basis.

Appellees denied any breach of the employment agreement and alleged Mers was an employee-at-will, subject to discharge for any reason. On motion, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Dispatch.

On appeal Mers argues that the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment because there were genuine issues of material fact concerning whether appellant was entitled to relief under the theory of promissory estoppel and, also, whether there existed an implied-in-fact contract not to discharge him except for just cause. The court of appeals acknowledged the continuing viability of the employment-at-will doctrine. [19 Ohio St.3d 102] It observed that appellant was an employee-at-will and concluded there was no evidence of express or implied contract terms which negated the principles of employment-at-will. The appeals court also believed appellee made its decision to discharge appellant in good faith. The court reasoned that the Dispatch's representations regarding reinstatement were not enforceable promises in the subjective view of the promisor and, hence, did not fall within the parameters of the doctrine of promissory estoppel. The judgment of the trial court was affirmed.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Thomas M. Tyack & Assoc. Co., L.P.A., and Mark A. Serrott, Columbus, for appellant.

Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Mark S. Coco and Gary D. Begeman, Columbus, for appellees.

CELEBREZZE, Chief Justice.

The ultimate issue before us is whether the trial court properly granted appellees' motion for summary judgment. Central to this determination is whether there were questions of fact concerning the existence of supplemental provisions to the oral employment agreement which would limit the Dispatch's discretion so that it could only terminate appellant's employment for good cause. Additionally, we must decide if

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promissory estoppel may ever constitute an exception to the doctrine of employment-at-will and, if so, whether there are disputed facts in this case relating to promises made by appellees which could afford appellant relief.

Appellant initially urges us to abolish the long-standing doctrine of employment-at-will. 1 Appellant contends the doctrine is no longer viable and argues for the establishment of a new rule whereby employees can only be discharged for just cause. [19 Ohio St.3d 103]

Unless otherwise agreed, either party to an oral employment-at-will agreement may terminate the employment relationship for any reason which is not contrary to law. This...

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