Burgess v. Ford Motor Company

Practice Area:

Outcome: $657,641 jury verdict

Tommy Burgess hired our firm to enforce a written agreement he had reached with his employer, Ford Motor Company, to allow him to transfer from a management position with the company to an hourly job, where he intended to retire. The case was filed in Chancery Court in Nashville, and proceeded to jury trial on a theory of promissory estoppel. Put simply, Mr. Burgess alleged that Ford had made a promise that should be enforced under the law. After a weeklong trial, the jury enforced the promise, returning a verdict of $657,641 to Mr. Burgess – the approximate value of the retirement benefits he had been denied. Ford appealed the jury’s decision, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict in its entirety.


It was absolutely critical to Mr. Burgess that Ford’s promise be enforced. Mr. Burgess had worked as an hourly employee for Ford at its Nashville Glass Plant from 1987 through 1994, when he was promoted to a management position. In 1999, Ford announced that it would implement a corporate spinoff of its parts manufacturers, including the Nashville Glass Plant. This would result in all plant management employees, including Mr. Burgess, losing their employment status with Ford. This spinoff caused many management employees, like Mr. Burgess, to become concerned that their job security and benefits would be adversely affected once they were no longer Ford employees.


Mr. Burgess shared his concerns with Ford management. Ultimately, Ford’s management promised Mr. Burgess that if he stayed in his management position through the corporate transition, he would be allowed to return to his hourly Ford job upon request in the future. Mr. Burgess lived up to his end of the bargain. In June 2005, when he learned that the plant would soon be sold, Mr. Burgess asked and, ultimately, demanded that he be returned to an hourly position. Ford refused, and denied that it had any obligation to Mr. Burgess.


Mr. Burgess retained our firm to take action. The stakes for Mr. Burgess were high. If he could enforce Ford’s promise, he could second a financial recovery that equated to the pension benefits he would have been entitled to as a Ford hourly employee. If the promise were found unenforceable, Mr. Burgess would essentially have no retirement from his years dedicated to Ford. As mentioned previously, the jury recognized and enforced the promise Ford made to him. Our firm was proud to successfully represent Mr. Burgess, ensuring that he could retire and enjoy the retirement he had worked so hard to achieve.


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