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Stewart v. Cendant Mobility Services Corp.

Supreme Court of Connecticut
837 A.2d 736 (Conn. 2003)


Facts

Elizabeth M. Stewart (plaintiff) and her husband were both employed as executives for Cendant Mobility Services Corp. (Cendant) (defendant). In April 1998, Cendant terminated Stewart’s husband’s employment. As an at will employee, Stewart become concerned that her husband might seek work with one of Cendant’s competitors, and thereby adversely affect her employment with Cendant. She approached James Simon, her immediate supervisor, who assured Stewart that her husband’s employment with a competitor would not affect her employment with Cendant. Simon told Stewart that she had nothing to worry about, that he regarded her as trustworthy, and that she was a highly valued employee. Simon also conveyed assurances from the president of Cendant that Stewart’s employment would not be affected. Based on these assurances, Stewart chose to stay with Cendant and did not seek employment elsewhere. On March 5, 1999, Cendant became aware that Stewart’s husband was working for a competitor. Cendant began limiting Stewart’s duties and demanded that she sign an agreement setting forth her obligations to Cendant regarding her husband’s employment. Stewart refused and her employment was terminated on June 11, 1999. At the time of her termination, Stewart was owed approximately $812,700.00 in unpaid commissions. Stewart brought suit against Cendant on a theory of promissory estoppel, alleging that she relied on Simon’s assurances to her detriment. At trial, Stewart asserted that her skills were considered highly marketable in her field and that she could have obtained another job that would have offered a signing bonus to match any foregone commissions from Cendant. The jury ruled in favor of Stewart on her promissory estoppel claim and awarded her $850,000.00. Cendant moved to set aside the verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court denied Cendant’s motions. Cendant appealed, arguing that its alleged promise to Stewart lacked the clarity and definiteness necessary for a promissory estoppel claim and that Stewart failed to establish that she had relied on the alleged promise to her detriment.

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Holding and Reasoning (Palmer, J.)

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