78 F.3d 409 (8th Cir. 1996), 95-2660, Fox v. T-H Continental Ltd. Partnership

Docket Nº:95-2660.
Citation:78 F.3d 409
Party Name:Judy L. FOX, Appellee, v. T-H CONTINENTAL LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Appellant.
Case Date:March 14, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 409

78 F.3d 409 (8th Cir. 1996)

Judy L. FOX, Appellee,

v.

T-H CONTINENTAL LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Appellant.

No. 95-2660.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 14, 1996

Submitted Dec. 11, 1995.

Page 410

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 411

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota; David S. Doty, Judge.

James P. Gillece, Baltimore, Maryland, argued (Laura J. Davis, on the brief), for appellant.

Donald Sidney Arbour, Minneapolis, Minnesota, argued, for appellee.

Before BOWMAN and LOKEN, Circuit Judges, and SCHWARZER, [*] District Judge.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

This case involves the doctrine of promissory estoppel. The controlling substantive law is that of Minnesota. Judy L. Fox sued her former employer, T-H Continental Limited Partnership, after she was terminated from her position as director of sales at the Mall of America Days Inn in Bloomington, Minnesota. Her complaint against T-H asserted claims of sex discrimination, age discrimination, breach of contract, and promissory estoppel. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of T-H on the sex and age discrimination claims, but denied summary judgment on the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims. The case then proceeded to trial on the latter claims. The jury found for T-H on Fox's breach of contract claim, but found that Fox was entitled to prevail on her promissory estoppel claim, and returned a verdict in her favor of $46,527.00, to which the District Court added prejudgment interest. The court denied T-H's post-judgment motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial or to amend the judgment. T-H timely appeals, claiming that the District Court erred in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. We agree with T-H and now reverse. We hold that Fox failed to make a submissible case on her promissory estoppel claim and therefore that T-H's motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted.

I.

Fox began working for Tollman-Hundley Hotels 1 in 1989. She was promoted several times and, by early 1992, was general manager of a hotel in Denver, Colorado. In February 1992, after Tollman-Hundley sold the hotel where Fox was employed, she was told that her job soon would be terminated. During the next two weeks, Fox was involved in tying up loose ends in the hotel transfer when she was contacted by Tom Wilson, T-H's vice-president for sales and marketing. Wilson asked Fox to join T-H as temporary director of sales at the Mall of America Days Inn. Under the terms of this interim employment agreement, Fox would receive a base salary plus commissions on rooms booked by her sales department. In addition, because the position was only temporary, T-H would allow Fox to live in the hotel, to rent a car as needed, and to be reimbursed for weekend trips back to Colorado every three weeks. Fox was told that permanent employment was conditioned on her satisfactory performance in the temporary position and a successful interview with the new general manager who had not yet been hired. Fox accepted the temporary position and began her new job on March 15, 1992. She worked as a temporary employee for the next three and one-half months. Paul Hitselberger was eventually hired as the new general manager and he offered Fox a permanent position as director of sales in June 1992.

The terms of Fox's permanent employment were negotiated over a period of months. In a June 30, 1992 memorandum, Hitselberger detailed the terms of T-H's offer of permanent employment. Under this offer, Fox's base salary and commission formula were to remain the same as her temporary position. But, because this was a permanent position, T-H told Fox that she would have to obtain her own housing, provide her own local transportation, and pay for all personal travel back to Colorado. Hitselberger explicitly stated in the memorandum that this was a "permanent position"

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and that he hoped Fox would "commit to a long term position." Memorandum from Hitselberger to Fox (June 30, 1992), at 1, 2. Fox was told that "with no real stretch, there is in excess of $18,000 in available commissions waiting to be earned," and, because the hotel was a "high profile property," Fox would have an opportunity to do well "both financially and professionally, by turning [the hotel] around." Id. at 2. Although Hitselberger expressed his enthusiasm for a successful employment relationship with Fox, the memorandum contained no provisions on job security and there was no promise of continued employment terminable only for cause.

In late summer, Fox advised Hitselberger that she would accept the permanent position, but the issue of reimbursement of moving expenses remained unresolved. Fox and Hitselberger had several discussions throughout the late summer concerning payment of relocation expenses. During these discussions...

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