Company sued for breaking oral promise not to fire someone

Denise Parker was an administrator at a nonprofit youth leadership organization for nearly 40 years, receiving consistently strong performance reviews.

But when the organization hired a new CEO, his management style lowered morale and made many employees worried about losing their jobs. Parker herself received a vague warning that there were people “lined up in the street” waiting to take her job.

The staff put together a committee to take their concerns to the organization’s board of directors. Parker was voted onto the committee, and at a meeting, the board asked her to discuss the warning she’d been given. She was nervous about doing so because she was afraid the CEO would be angry. But a board member told her she needed to answer the question, and that she couldn’t be fired for doing so.

Parker described what happened – and two weeks later, the CEO fired her for being negative at the board meeting.

Parker sued, and a jury awarded her nearly $200,000 in lost wages, along with another $400,000 to punish the employer for its egregious behavior.

Even though the board never told Parker in writing that she couldn’t be fired for saying what happened, its oral promise was binding, and she couldn’t legally be fired as a result.