In Bisig v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit emphasized the importance of written disclaimers in avoiding tort claims based on alleged promises of continued employment and better pay.
The plaintiffs were sales employees whose company was acquired by Time Warner. At the time of the acquisition, the employees entered into several compensation agreements with Time Warner containing specific “Important Notice” disclaimers stating that “You will be employed on an at-will basis unless you are subject to a written employment agreement signed by a company representative authorized to enter into an employment agreement.” At approximately the same time, Time Warner allegedly made promises to them of continued employment and better pay. The employees were subsequently told that the workforce was being cut in half and they would need to reapply to keep their jobs. They quit and sued Time Warner for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and promissory estoppel based on the alleged promises.
The Sixth Circuit rejected the employees’ claims and found that it was not reasonable for the employees to rely on Time Warner’s promises where they had read and accepted the clear disclaimer. In Kentucky, as is the case in most states, “As a matter of law, a party may not rely on oral representations that conflict with written disclaimers to the contrary which the complaining party earlier specifically acknowledged in writing.” This was the case here, as the promises conflicted with the written at-will disclaimer.