Fired Court officer cannot sue to enforce Judge's alleged promises of "just cause" employment.
Kevin Dokes sued the 22d District Court, arguing that Judge Sylvia James induced him to move from Georgia to Michigan to take employment as a court clerk based on a promise of permanent employment so long as he performed his job duties and did not provide "just cause" for firing. The Defendants argued that "just cause" employment contracts in public service should be void against public policy and that, in any event, Dokes was an "at will" employee who was not induced to move north to take this job.
The Defendants demonstrated that the form identifying Dokes as a "permanent/regular" employee was executed after he had taken the job and was seeking a mortgage. Similarly, the alleged promises of "just cause" employment were not made in advance of his start date and therefore he could not argue that the statements supported a "promissory estoppel" or inducement claim.
More importantly, even though the panel found that there is no Michigan public policy repudiating just cause employment in government jobs, the judges concluded that Dokes had not overcome Michigan's "presumption" that all workers are hired "at will." It noted prior, recent decisions which have held that even contracts for "permanent" employment are presumed to create "at will" employment such that the employee can still be fired for any reason. It concluded that Dokes' evidence did not overcome this presumption because it was not "clear and unequivocal." Indeed, the court ruled that the defendants were entitled to summary disposition because the judges decided Dokes' evidence did not create a question of material fact about "just cause" employment.