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Doctor who gave up existing practice cannot sue Henry Ford for breach of employment promise

The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Danita Peoples-Peterson's breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims against the Henry Ford Health System.  Peoples-Peterson is a dermatologist who built an independent practice in Midland.  She opted out of Medicare, which carries a two-year mandatory term, several months before Henry Ford indicated interest in hiring her.  She made preliminary moves toward closing her Midland practice, however Henry Ford's Chief Operating Officer developed cold feet about the hiring when he realized the doctor would go a number of months before she could begin treating Medicare patients.  Henry Ford then pulled the employment offer off the table and Peoples-Peterson sued.

The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the doctor's lawsuit.  It noted that since the Engler era, Michigan's public policy has dictated that most employment is "at will."  Only if an employee can prove a contract for a limited duration, or a "legitimate expection of job security," can the employee claim any property interest in his or her job.  Further,  activist judges have interpreted these policy terms to require that the employee provide "clear and unequivocal" proof contradicting "at will" employment.   The dominant Republican Justices have established that provisions in employee hand books that spell out disciplinary policies or just-cause termination policies don't necessarily create a legitimate expectation of continued employment and do not automatically negate "at will" employment.

Applying these precedents to the Henry Ford employment contract that was under consideration, the Court ruled that since the doctor could be fired any time for any reason, it could simply  change its mind about hiring her.   The court also ruled that  she had no recourse for the damage done to her practice as she prepared to close it and work for Henry Ford:  the judges noted that a prospective employee cannot claim damages resulting from "detrimental reliance" on a prospective employer's job offer, if the offer is for "at will" employment.  "resignation of one's position and relocation are 'customary and necessary incidents of changing jobs rather than consideration to support a claim of promissory estoppel.' " 

We agree with the latter statement, however, it begs the question of who should cover thoses expenses where a enticing employer arbitrarily changes its mind and reneges on an offer:  the potential employee's "investment" in resignation and relocation could be the potential's employer's 'customary and necessary' expense as a matter of public policy, if an "at will" promise is precipitously and arbitrarily withdrawn.  These decisions represent simply another "public policy" decision by Republican Justices to shift an expense from moneyed special interests to the backs of middle-class consumers and taxpayers.

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