Employee sues over broken promise of new job

Broken Job promiseMichael Cocchiara had worked as a salesman for eight years at a Dodge dealership in Oregon when he suffered a heart attack, and his doctors told him he needed to get a less stressful job. He lined up a new job at a newspaper company, but the dealership asked him not to quit, and said that it would give him a new “corporate” job instead that would meet his health needs. Relying on this promise, Cocchiara turned down the newspaper job.

But the dealership then reneged, and didn’t give him the corporate job. He eventually found yet another job, but at much lower pay.

Cocchiara sued the dealership, claiming it had committed fraud and demanding lost wages.

The dealership argued that it couldn’t be sued because, even if it had given Cocchiara the corporate job, the job was “at will,” meaning that it could have fired him at any time for any reason. Since the corporate job had no security and he could have been fired immediately anyway, the dealership said he didn’t really lose anything by not getting it.

But the Oregon Supreme Court said Cocchiara could sue. It said that while he could have been fired immediately, that was highly unlikely given that he was a long-term employee and the dealership had made efforts to keep him. Besides, the dealership’s “bait and switch” kept him from taking another valuable job.

Under the circumstances, the court said, Cocchiara could sue for the additional pay he could have reasonably expected at the newspaper job if not for the broken promise.