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1 of 99 DOCUMENTS
DENNIS CICCONETTI Plaintiff-Appellant v. HUMAN RESOURCES CENTER, et
al. Defendants-Appellees
C.A. No. 2158
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth Appellate District, Wayne County
1986 Ohio App. LEXIS 8469

September 24, 1986, Decided


PRIOR HISTORY:
[*1] APPEAL FROM
JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COMMON PLEAS
COURT COUNTY OF WAYNE, OHIO CASE NO. 84
CI 356.
CASE SUMMARY:
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiff employee
appealed a judgment of the Common Pleas Court County
of Wayne (Ohio), which granted a judgment
notwithstanding the verdict in favor of defendant
employer. A jury had found in favor of the employee
regarding his wrongful discharge and breach of contract
claims. The employee contended that the employer was
not entitled to a such a judgment on the breach of the
employee's implied contract of employment.
OVERVIEW: The employee was hired as a part-time
counselor and discharged six months later without any
prior notice. His only evaluation was satisfactory. The
employee filed suit against the employer, and two issues
were submitted to the jury: wrongful discharge and
breach of implied contract claims. A jury found for the
employee, but the trial court granted the employer's
motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The
trial court held that the employee's employment was
at-will and that the employer properly terminated the
relationship. The court affirmed the judgment, finding
that there were no other facts in the case that would

create an implied contract for employment between the


parties based on his receipt of a personnel manual. The
trial court held that the procedures listed under the
corrective action provision were merely guidelines.
Reading the manual as a whole, there could be no doubt
that employment of an indefinite duration was intended
and that only an employment-at-will was created. The
employee did not allege he could only be dismissed for
cause. Therefore, there was no basis for his reliance on
employment for which he advanced promissory estoppel
as a basis for relief.
OUTCOME: The court affirmed the judgment of the
trial court.
LexisNexis(R) Headnotes

Labor & Employment Law > Employment Relationships


> Employment at Will > General Overview
[HN1] An oral employment-at-will relationship may be
terminated for any reason, which is not contrary to law.
Labor & Employment Law > Employment Relationships
> Employment at Will > Exceptions > Implied Contracts
Labor & Employment Law > Employment Relationships
> Employment Contracts > General Overview

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1986 Ohio App. LEXIS 8469, *1

Labor & Employment Law > Wrongful Termination >


Breach of Contract > Employer Handbooks
[HN2] An employment-at-will can be implicitly
modified. The facts and circumstances surrounding an
oral employment-at-will agreement, including the
character of the employment, custom, the course of
dealing between the parties, company policy, or any other
fact which may illuminate the question, can be
considered by the trier of fact in order to determine the
agreement's explicit and implicit terms concerning
discharge.
Labor & Employment Law > Employment Relationships
> Employment at Will > Exceptions > Implied Contracts
Labor & Employment Law > Employment Relationships
> Employment Contracts > General Overview
[HN3] Employee manuals and handbooks, in and of
themselves, do not create implied contracts. In
accordance with the position taken by the courts or an
overwhelming majority of states, the courts of Ohio have
generally taken the position that company manuals and
handbooks, alone, are insufficient to create implied
contracts of employment to which the employer is legally
bound.
Contracts Law > Consideration > Promissory Estoppel
Governments > Courts > Court Personnel
Labor & Employment Law > Employment Relationships
> Employment at Will > General Overview
[HN4] The doctrine of promissory estoppel is applicable
and binding to oral at-will employment agreements. The
test in such cases is whether the employer should have
reasonably expected its representation to be relied upon
by its employee and, if so, whether the expected action or
forbearance actually resulted and was detrimental to the
employee.
COUNSEL: LINDA TUCCI TEODOSIO, Attorney at
Law for Plaintiff.
MARK W.
Defendants.

BASERMAN,

Attorney

at

Law

for

JUDGES: DANIEL B. QUILLIN, J., GEORGE, J.,


CASTLE, J. CONCUR.(Castle, J., retired Judge of the
Twelfth District Court of Appeals, sitting by assignment
pursuant to Article IV, Section 6(C), Constitution).
OPINION BY: QUILLIN

OPINION
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
This cause was heard upon the record in the trial
court. Each error assigned has been reviewed and the
following disposition is made:
QUILLIN, P. J.
Plaintiff appeals from a judgment notwithstanding
the verdict. The trial court held that plaintiff's
employment was at-will and defendant properly
terminated the relationship. We affirm.
Dennis Cicconetti first came into contact with the
Human Resources Center (HRC) as a client in May of
1983. At that time Mr. Cicconetti was encouraged by
HRC employee, Keith Maneese, to apply for a position
with HRC as a counsellor. Mr. Cicconetti did apply for
the position and was hired as a part-time counsellor.
Mr. Cicconetti began working as a counsellor in June
of 1983. He was discharged [*2] from this position,
without any prior notice, in December of 1983. During
the period Mr. Cicconetti was employed at HRC, one
evaluation was done on his job performance and the
results were satisfactory. Mr. Cicconetti remained
unemployed for fifteen months following his discharge
from HRC.
Mr. Cicconetti filed an action in the trial court
against HRC, Keith Maneese, and Robert Smedley
(Executive Director of HRC), alleging wrongful
discharge, tortious interference with employment
relationship, breach of implied employment contract,
violation of plaintiff's right to privacy, intentional
infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of
emotional distress, and violation of the plaintiff's civil
rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.
Prior to trial, Mr. Cicconetti dropped the claim
relating to violation of his civil rights. At trial, Mr.
Cicconetti voluntarily withdrew the claim for invasion of
privacy. HRC moved for a directed verdict on the
remaining claims. The trial court granted the motion as to
the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional
distress, and tortious interference claims. The trial court
overruled HRC's directed verdict motion with regard to
the wrongful [*3] discharge and breach of implied

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1986 Ohio App. LEXIS 8469, *3

contract claims.
The case proceeded to conclusion and the remaining
two issues were submitted to the jury. The jury returned a
verdict for Mr. Cicconetti in the amount of $ 12,500. The
trial court then granted HRC's motion for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict. Mr. Cicconetti appeals.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
"The trial court erred in granting the defendant's
motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict since
the defendant was not entitled to judgment as a matter of
law based on the evidence presented at trial regarding
defendant's breach of plaintiff's implied contract of
employment."
Mr. Cicconetti supports this assignment of error with
two arguments. He first argues that the contract for
employment-at-will was implicitly modified by the
provisions in the HRC personnel manual regarding
procedures for employee discharge. This assertion is not
supported by the record.
The general law in Ohio remains that [HN1] an oral
employment-at-will relationship may be terminated for
any reason which is not contrary to law. Mers v.
Dispatch Printing Co. (1985), 19 Ohio St. 3d 100. But,
the Supreme Court of Ohio also stated in Mers that
[HN2] an employment-at-will [*4] can be implicitly
modified. Mers, supra at 101, paragraph two of the
syllabus:
"The facts and circumstances surrounding an oral
employment-at-will agreement, including the character of
the employment, custom, the course of dealing between
the parties, company policy, or any other fact which may
illuminate the question, can be considered by the trier of
fact in order to determine the agreement's explicit and
implicit terms concerning discharge."
Mr. Cicconetti argues that the employment-at-will
agreement implicitly included the provisions in HRC's
personnel manual that he received at commencement of
employment. This court has previously held that [HN3]
employee manuals and handbooks, in and of themselves,
do not create implied contracts. Rachubka v. St. Thomas
Hosp. Medical Ctr. (Oct. 10, 1984), Summit App. No.
11596, unreported.
"* * *.

"In accordance with the position taken by the courts


or an overwhelming majority of states, the courts of Ohio
have generally taken the position that company manuals
and handbooks, alone, are insufficient to create implied
contracts of employment to which the employer is legally
bound. * * *." Id.
There are no other facts [*5] in this case which
would create an implied contract for employment
between Mr. Cicconetti and HRC based on Mr.
Cicconetti's receipt of the HRC personnel manual.
Mr. Cicconetti's second argument is that under the
doctrine of promissory estoppel HRC could reasonably
expect that Mr. Cicconetti would detrimentally rely on
the personnel manual. The court in Mers, supra, at
paragraph three of the syllabus stated that:
[HN4] "The doctrine of promissory estoppel is applicable
and binding to oral at-will employment agreements. The
test in such cases is whether the employer should have
reasonably expected its representation to be relied upon
by its employee and, if so, whether the expected action or
forbearance actually resulted and was detrimental to the
employee."
Mr. Cicconetti specifically refers to the provisions in
the personnel manual regarding Corrective Action. He
asserts that he detrimentally relied upon his belief that the
procedures for Corrective Action were mandatory, and
that HRC should have reasonably expected him to rely on
the manual.
We agree with the trial court that the procedures
listed under Corrective Action are merely guidelines and
not mandatory on HRC. Reading [*6] the HRC
personnel manual as a whole, there can be no doubt that
employment of an indefinite duration was intended and
that only an employment-at-will was created.
Mr. Cicconetti does not assert that if the Corrective
Action procedures are mandatory on HRC, then HRC
could only dismiss him "for cause." Therefore, if Mr.
Cicconetti's employment could be terminated "without
cause", then he could not have detrimentally relied on the
personnel manual. The personnel manual only addresses
procedures to be taken by HRC should an employee act
in a "counter-productive" manner. The personnel manual
does not say that an employee could not be dismissed
"without cause," and in complete disregard of the
provisions in the personnel manual. Because HRC could

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1986 Ohio App. LEXIS 8469, *6

terminate Mr. Cicconetti's employment "without cause",


he could not have detrimentally relied on the personnel
manual.
We affirm the trial court's granting of HRC's motion
for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The Court finds that there were reasonable grounds
for this appeal.
We order that a special mandate issue out of this
court, directing the County of Wayne Common Pleas
Court to carry this judgment into execution. A certified

copy of [*7] this journal entry shall constitute the


mandate, pursuant to App. R. 27.
Immediately upon the filing hereof, this document
shall constitute the journal entry of judgment, and it shall
be file stamped by the Clerk of the Court of Appeals at
which time the period for review shall begin to run. App.
R. 22(E).
Costs taxed to appellant.
Exceptions.