Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., No. 84-1682

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtCELEBREZZE; HOLMES; DOUGLAS; HOLMES
Citation19 Ohio St.3d 100,19 OBR 261,483 N.E.2d 150
Parties, 120 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3299, 117 Lab.Cas. P 56,466, 19 O.B.R. 261, 2 IER Cases 1031 MERS, Appellant, v. DISPATCH PRINTING COMPANY et al., Appellees.
Decision Date09 August 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-1682

Page 100

19 Ohio St.3d 100
483 N.E.2d 150, 120 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3299, 117 Lab.Cas. P 56,466,
19 O.B.R. 261, 2 IER Cases 1031
MERS, Appellant,
v.
DISPATCH PRINTING COMPANY et al., Appellees.
No. 84-1682.
Supreme Court of Ohio.
Aug. 9, 1985.
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.

Page 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 [483 N.E.2d 152] 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.

Page 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 [483 N.E.2d 153] 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.

Page 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 doctrine has been repeatedly followed by most jurisdictions, including Ohio, which has long recognized the right of employers to discharge employees at will. See, e.g., LaFrance v. Internatl. Brotherhood (1923), 108 Ohio St. 61, 140 N.E. 899; Henkel v. Educ. Research Council (1976), 45 Ohio St.2d 249, 344 N.E.2d 118 [74 O.O.2d 415]; Fawcett v. G.C. Murphy & Co. (1976), 46 Ohio St.2d 245, 348 N.E.2d 144 [75 O.O.2d 291]; Evely v. Carlon Co. (1983), 4 Ohio St.3d 163, 447 N.E.2d 1290.

This is not to say that employment-at-will agreements are without any defined limits. For example, Congress and the General Assembly have enacted laws forbidding retaliatory discharge for filing workers' compensation claims and for union activity, and discriminatory filings based on race, sex, age or physical handicap. 2 However, we are not persuaded that modern developments which have taken place in employment relationships constitute a sufficient basis for us to now totally abolish the employment-at-will doctrine. Such an action would, among other things, place Ohio's courts in the untenable position of having to second-guess the business judgments of employers. The need for certainty and continuity in the law requires us to stand by precedent and not disturb a settled point unless extraordinary circumstances require it.

While we believe that considerations of public policy do not demand total abandonment of the employment-at-will doctrine, this case demonstrates that there are [483 N.E.2d 154] occasions when exceptions to the general rule are recognized in the interest of justice. Accordingly, while we find it ill-advised to add a blanket "just cause" requirement to the employment-at-will doctrine, we find appellant's other contentions well-taken for the reasons to follow.

In Henkel, supra, this court stated that the "facts and circumstances" surrounding an at-will agreement should be considered to ascertain if they indicate what took place, the parties' intent, and the...

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  • Hawley v. Dresser Industries, Inc., No. C-2-85-0332.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • May 15, 1990
    ...to avoid injustice." Bowman v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 724 F.Supp. 493, 504 (N.D.Ohio 1989) (citing Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 104, 483 N.E.2d 150, 154 (1985)). For these requirements, Mers relied on Talley v. Teamsters, Local No. 377, 48 Ohio St.2d 142, 146, 357......
  • Golem v. Village of Put-in-Bay, No. 3:00CV7740.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • August 30, 2002
    ...which cannot create a contract. In Ohio, the general rule is that employment relationships are at-will. Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 103-04, 483 N.E.2d 150 (1985). One exception to the employment-at-will doctrine arises when the facts and circumstances of the employment......
  • Waters v. Drake, Case No. 2:14–cv–1704.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • April 24, 2015
    ...interest”). In Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co.,the Supreme Court of Ohio recognized two exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 483 N.E.2d 150, 153–55 (1985). First, the Court recognized that an oral at-will employment agreement could be altered by implied or express......
  • Shinholster v. Akron Auto. Ass'n, Inc., No. C88-884-A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 11, 1989
    ...not contrary to law. Phung v. Waste Management, Inc., 23 Ohio St.3d 100, 102, 491 N.E.2d 1114 (1986); Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 103, 483 N.E.2d 150 (1985). However, Ohio courts have also found that under certain facts and circumstances parties can be said to have mod......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
926 cases
  • Hawley v. Dresser Industries, Inc., No. C-2-85-0332.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • May 15, 1990
    ...to avoid injustice." Bowman v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 724 F.Supp. 493, 504 (N.D.Ohio 1989) (citing Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 104, 483 N.E.2d 150, 154 (1985)). For these requirements, Mers relied on Talley v. Teamsters, Local No. 377, 48 Ohio St.2d 142, 146, 357......
  • Golem v. Village of Put-in-Bay, No. 3:00CV7740.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • August 30, 2002
    ...which cannot create a contract. In Ohio, the general rule is that employment relationships are at-will. Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 103-04, 483 N.E.2d 150 (1985). One exception to the employment-at-will doctrine arises when the facts and circumstances of the employment......
  • Waters v. Drake, Case No. 2:14–cv–1704.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • April 24, 2015
    ...interest”). In Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co.,the Supreme Court of Ohio recognized two exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 483 N.E.2d 150, 153–55 (1985). First, the Court recognized that an oral at-will employment agreement could be altered by implied or express......
  • Shinholster v. Akron Auto. Ass'n, Inc., No. C88-884-A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 11, 1989
    ...not contrary to law. Phung v. Waste Management, Inc., 23 Ohio St.3d 100, 102, 491 N.E.2d 1114 (1986); Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 19 Ohio St.3d 100, 103, 483 N.E.2d 150 (1985). However, Ohio courts have also found that under certain facts and circumstances parties can be said to have mod......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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