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My wife recently took a new job at a new school district. She wanted to move closer to her hometown. The only way that we could move is it they gave her a .74 job. At first the principle of her new job told her not to resign from her old teaching job in until they approved the extra time so they could get my wife to come teach at their school. My wife then received an email from the principal saying that they had
approved the time and that it was a done deal. Yesterday she went to the new school district office to fill out some paperwork and they told her that they had not approved the time and they don’t know if they’re ever going to approve the time. She feels like the principal deceived her just to get her
to come over to her school because my wife comes from a very good school and the school she is going to not as good.
We still have the email saying that they did approve the time so my wife could resign from her other job.
Asked on June 22, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Utah
SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney
Answered 4 years ago | Contributor
While usually, without a signed written employment contract, an employer is free to renege on a job offer because employment, in the absence of a contract, is "employment at will," there are times when you can enforce a promise of a job using the doctrine of "promissory estoppel"--and the case you describe appears to be one of those situations. To use promissory estoppel, all the following must be true or apply:
1) A promise was made to you (e.g. of employment);
2) To accept or act on that promise, you'd have to do something significant to your detriment, like give up an existing job;
3) The person making the promise must have known that you'd have to do that thing to your detriment, which they evidently did;
4) Knowing that you'd have to act to your own detriment, they nonetheless still made the promise to induce you to do something, like take a new job; and
5) It was reasonable for you to rely on the promise, which it most likely was, if you had something in writing.
So you may be able to enforce the promise in court, using promissory estoppel. And, even if there was no formal written contract, if you have written communications (e.g. emails) from the school which in the aggregate set out all the terms of and therefore could be considered to amount to a written contract, it is not impossible that a court would also find that you wife had an employment contract.
Based on what you write, enforcing the promise is therefore a reasonable possibility for you, and it would be worthwhile to consult with an employment law attorney in detail (bring copies of all emails and communications) to further evaluate the strength of a case, what it might be worth, and the cost to pursue it, so you can decide what to do. Good luck.