Is promissory estoppel actionable without a written contract?

I visited a college with interest in an assistant coaching position within
their athletic department paying a small stipend. While there, I was sought
out by the president and VP telling me to apply for an enrollment position
full time plus benefits.

I was given assurances the job was mine so I started taking on the coaching
duties – without an interview, official offer, etc. I just filled out some

The VP asked me to interview for the enrollment position with other staff
members. At the interview, the VP says to me, ‘you will be my first hire.’ Then
she tells me she’ll call me later in the week with the details.

I assume the job is mine, fly home, sell furniture, pack my family up into a
Uhaul and begin to move. Literally driving the truck, the VP calls me and says
she hired a more qualified person for the enrollment position.

Would I be justified seeking damages or is this stupidity on my part?

Asked on October 27, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Minnesota


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

It's probably--your words, not mine--"stupidity," but more charitably, a triumph of optimism over pragmatism or realism. Promissory estoppel, while still valid in the sense is it sometimes followed, is generally disfavored by the courts, because it creates quasi-contractual liability where there is no contract, and so runs counter to contract law. That makes it generally an uphill battle to win on it. More specifically, in the employment context, because all employment is "employment at will" except when there is a written employment contract, it is not reasonable to rely on any employment promise which is not contained in an actual employment contract. However, one of the requirements of promissory estoppel is that the reliance on the promise must be "reasonable": it very difficult to convince a court that it was reasonable to rely on a noncontractual employment promise and to take such drastic actions as you did without getting a contract protecting you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.