Wellesley, MA attorney Bill Royal explains promissory estoppel and how he uses it to help his clients in employment cases?
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So there’s a concept in Massachusetts, in most states and most of the states have it but in Massachusetts it’s fairly well defined it’s called Promissory Estoppel. If clients think about what’s fair, they often say well somebody promised me something so I should be able to sue for that. And of course, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t and the test is not whether there’s a writing, the test in Promissory Estoppel is whether it’s a promise usually in a commercial context where you relied on something reasonably, took some action to your detriment and as a result, you were harmed. And so, those are cases that we uses in the employment context because in Massachusetts if you’re employee at will, in general, you can be fired for any reason but Promissory Estoppel can be an exception to that, it is an exception in the employment at will arena and if someone promises you something.
Let’s say they promise you a new job, you move for that new job, it turns out it’s not the job you expected and maybe you weren’t getting paid as much. That could easily be a Promissory Estoppel claim that you could prevail on. Similarly, in a large case we had a senior executive was promised to be given all these options to do a huge recapitalization of the company. They didn’t give him the recapitalization monies that he was due but he was promised it but there was no writing. But he had taken steps to sell the deal and as a result, the jury found the Promissory Estoppel did obtain and they prevailed. So Promissory Estoppel is a little bit of a tort, little bit of a contract, it’s a way that an employee who’s in an employment at will situation may be able to prevail even if there’s no contract or writing.