As a Los Angeles-based employee rights law firm, we’ve received numerous calls from folks who’ve quit their old jobs on the promise of a new job. When they have actually relocated to take the job and then it is taken away from them at or near the time they were supposed to start, they are understandably upset. Employees of private corporations in California have numerous Labor Code and common law protections. However, what if the new potential employer is a public agency?
Ordinarily, public entities in California (such as Los Angeles County, The State of California, Orange County, etc.) are only liable for violations of statutes, not common law.However, the case of Piccinini vs. California Emergency Management Agency has clarified the rights of public employees in this situation. Back in 2011, Mr. Piccinini was the top candidated for a postion of deputy cheif. He was hired, sold his home, signed a two year lews for a home herby the new job and resignedas as chief of the Central Calaveras Fire Department. He was then told that due to “budget constraints” his new job was no longer available! (I’m sure that more than just frogs were jumping in Calaveras County after he was told that!).
The Court of Appeals relied on Government code Section 19257 which states:
“Any person acting in good faith in accepting an appointment…shall be paid by the appointppower the compensation promised by or on behalf of the appointng power, in case no compensation is so promisedthen the actual value of any service rendered and the expense incurred in good faith under such attemptoing appointment or employment…”
In allowing the plaintiff to proceed with a promissory estoppel cause of action, the Court of Appeals recognized that Section 19257 states a legislative policy that recognizes a right in favor of someone who in good faith accepts an offer of public employment offered in violation of rules (for example, insufficient funding).
Prospective employees of private employers who welch on offers can win double damages if they move in reliance on a false promise. However, until this decision, public/governmental employees did not have a clear path to sue under these facts. Now they do.