Ohio: Promissory Estoppel Claim for Overtime Against Wal-Mart Goes Forward

By SHRM Online staff May 21, 2015
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A federal trial court allowed a former Wal-Mart employee’s promissory estoppel claim for overtime to proceed, but dismissed his Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and breach of contract claims.

Paul Nightingale worked as a pharmacist for Wal-Mart Stores Incin South Point, Ohio. Nightingale alleged that his supervisor, Dwayne Childers, promised that he would be paid for working overtime hours to address certain problems at the store even though he was a salaried pharmacy manager. Nightingale claimed that after he complained about not getting paid additional compensation Wal-Mart fired him. He filed suit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Ohio law, retaliation under the FLSA, breach of contract, and promissory estoppel. The company moved for summary judgment on all claims.

That trial court explained that under the FLSA, employers were required to pay employees at an overtime rate not less than one-and-a-half times the employers regular rate for every hour over forty hours worked in a given week. However, certain professional employees are exempt from the FLSAs overtime provision. The court found that there was no genuine dispute that Nightingale was a salaried exempt professional employee, so it granted Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment as to Nightingale’s FLSA and state law claims for overtime compensation. The court also found that Nightingale’s claims for retaliation and breach of contract failed and granted company’s motion for summary judgment.

Nightingale also claimed Wal-Mart owed him overtime pursuant to the doctrine of promissory estoppel. According to the court, the pharmacist had to show: (1) there was a clear and unambiguous promise, (2) he relied on the promise, (3) his reliance was reasonable and foreseeable, and (4) he was injured because he relied on the promise.

Wal-Mart contended Nightingale’s promissory estoppel claim failed for two reasons First, the company argued there was no clear and unambiguous promise by Childers or anyone else that the pharmacist would be entitled to overtime. However, taking all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court found Nightingale had sufficiently established a clear and unambiguous promise.

Second, the company contended the promissory estoppel claim was barred in an at-will employment situation where the employer changed the terms of the employment agreement and the employee acceded to such c

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