In the recent case of Hinkel v Sataria Distribution & Packaging, Inc. 921 NE2d 666 ( Ind.
App. 2010 ), the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a former employee could not enforce an alleged
oral promise made by his employer to pay him a year's salary and insurance if his employment was
terminated involuntarily. The court held that the employee's written contract of employment
was a complete statement of the employee's terms and conditions of employment, and therefore no oral
evidence would be permitted to contradict or modify the contract. For an oral modification to
be enforceable after a contract is signed, an employee has to provide the employer with
additional consideration-- something more than agreeing to continue working for the employer
or agreeing not to voluntarily resign. There was no such additional consideration here.
court also rejected the employee's reliance on the doctrine of promissory estoppel as the basis for
recovery. Promissory estoppel requires the employee to assert and show that the employer made
a promise to the employee, that the employee relied on the promise to his harm, and that injustice
to the employee can only be avoided by enforcing the promise. The employee claimed that the
employer's promise of severance induced the employee to give up the security associated with
previous jobs. The court found that the employee was employed had been employed by his current
employer for approximately four months at a substantial salary and was given six weeks of severance;
accordingly, the employee had not shown " an injury so severe that injustice could only be
avoided by enforcement of the employer's oral promise.
There was a dissent in the
case. The dissenting judge felt that the employment agreement contained only some of the
parties' agreements and was not intended by them to be a complete statement of all employment
terms. The judge also felt that oral evidence should be allowed to cover or add to employment
terms that were omitted or incomplete.