On December 20, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, reversed an order of the trial court that had dismissed an employee’s claims for breach of an employment agreement and promissory estoppel. Boswell v. City of Chicago, 2016 IL App (1st) 150871 (12/20/2016). Promissory estoppel is an employment law claim that is not dependent upon the existence of an employment contract. To state a claim for promissory estoppel, a employee must allege: (1) the employer made an unambiguous promise; (2) he relied on the promise; (3) his reliance was expected and foreseeable; and (4) he relied on the promise to his detriment. In this case, the employee alleged that the employer made representations that his employment would include certain terms and conditions, upon which he reasonably relied to his detriment by resigning from his previous employment and relocating his family to Chicago.
His allegations were specific enough to state a claim. He alleged in detail numerous specific statements by the employer regarding the terms and conditions of his employment. After the employee relocated and commenced his new employment, the employer did not honor the promised terms and conditions of employment. In the employment law context, promissory estoppel claims often arise in the relocation for a new job context. Specific promises are required (in addition to the other elements) for a promissory estoppel claim to work. And absent specific promises, such as guaranteed employment for a specific fixed duration, a promissory estoppel claim may fail. In addition, a written employment contract that contains an employment at-will statement and does not make any specific representations may bar a promissory estoppel claim. There is also a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation in the relocation for new employment context, which requires (among other elements) a fraudulent misrepresentation upon which the employee relied in leaving his previous employment and relocating for the new job. The claim for fraudulent misrepresentation in the employment law context does not necessarily require a promise of guaranteed employment for a fixed duration, and may not be barred by the employment at-will doctrine.