Trials & Litigation
Federal judge OKs fired ex-associate’s breach-of-contract suit against law firm
Posted Jan 8, 2014 5:10 PM CST
By Martha Neil
A fired associate attorney has no grounds for a wrongful termination suit, her former law firm argued, because she was an employee at will.
However, a federal judge did not agree, dismissing only one of Taffie Jones' claims against Flaster Greenberg, reports the Pennsylvania Record.
While U.S. District Judge John R. Padova nixed a negligent misrepresentation claim in a Dec. 30 ruling, he declined to dismiss two other claims alleging breach of implied contract and promissory estoppel and detrimental reliance.
Jones, who formerly was admitted in Illinois and worked in Chicago, says in the suit she closed her practice and took a job with the law firm in 2012. She alleges she moved to Pennsylvania because she was offered not only a job as an associate in the firm's Philadelphia office but training in patent law.
Instead of the mentoring she says she was promised, however, the head of the department “berated and yelled” at her, the suit alleges, and she was fired shortly after she complained to human resources about a hostile work environment. That was only eight months after she began working at Flaster Greenberg.
Now she is neither admitted nor employed in Pennsylvania and her reputation has been damaged by being fired.
The allegations by Jones establish a cause of action for breach of implied contract, the judge held, because her claim to have undergone a substantial hardship to accept the job, if proven, would require the law firm to employ her for a reasonable period of time, the Pennsylvania Record article explains.
The complaint also established a promissory estoppel claim, the judge found, rejecting the law firm's argument that the alleged promises to Jones were too vague.
But he dismissed a negligent misrepresentation count, explaining that it would have had to involve an alleged misrepresentation concerning a "present, material fact” rather than a failure to fulfill future promises.