Thursday, December 12, 2013

No Claim for Promissory Estoppel in Withdrawing Offer of At-Will Employment

No Claim for Promissory Estoppel in Withdrawing Offer of At-Will Employment

      A recent decision by Judge Hood saw him apply Kentucky’s law of employment-at-will to reject a claim for promissory estoppel while at the same time rejecting a claim for violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  McDonald v. Webasto Roof Systems, Inc., 2013 WL 5676223 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 18, 2013). 
      McDonald, then an employee of Washington Penn, applied for a position at Webasto.  At the end of the interview he was offered the position, and he advised that he needed to give two weeks’ notice.  A week after giving that notice McDonald was called by Webasto and told that a criminal background check, a drug test and a medical exam would be required.  He agreed to each.  A medical exam reported a herniated disc in McDonald’s back, but did not indicate he was unsuited for the job.  Webasto then sent McDonald to another medical facility for further investigation of his back.  Based upon that second examination and a report from a physician thereat that he could not recommend McDonald for the job, it appears (it is certainly implied but never expressly stated in the opinion) that Webasto withdrew the offer of employment.
      McDonald brought suit for violation of the ADA, asserting that Webasto withdrew the offer of employment because it regarded him as having a disability.  He also sued for breach of the employment contract and for promissory estoppel.  All these claims would be dismissed on summary judgment. 
      With respect to the claim under ADA, while acknowledging that McDonald could make out a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination, it found that McDonald would still lose.  Notwithstanding the fact that the medical assessment was open to objective questioning:
Defendant Webasto has come forward with a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not hiring him:  it concluded that he was not qualified based on the results of the examination of the Kentucky Back Center as reported by Dr. Lester and which stated McDonald could not perform the work required in the position for which he had been hired.  2013 WL 5676223, *4.
      The court rejected McDonald’s suggestion that this was proforma in that he was sent to the Kentucky Back Center in an effort to disqualify him from the position.  Rather:

McDonald does not dispute that Webasto could rightfully require and even condition his employment on the results of the medical examination.  Nor does McDonald suggest that the physical requirements contained in Webasto’s position description, against which his ability to perform job-related functions was measured, for anything other than job-related and consistent with business necessity.  He has provided the Court with no citation to relevant statute, regulation or case law to support his argument that an employer cannot seek a second opinion or that his pre-employment inquiry is per se limited once an initial evaluation is received.
      With respect to the charge of breach of contract, Judge Hood noted that Kentucky follows the rule of employment-at-will, stating that to be the rule unless there is a “clearly manifested intent” to the contrary.  There being no showing of a contract of employment other than on terms of at-will, the Court found there could be no action for breach of any such contract. 
      The Court went on to note that an at-will employee cannot assert promissory estoppel as the basis for damages.  2013 WL 5676226, *6.

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