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Kermavner v. Wyla Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 28, 2017

MARIANNE KERMAVNER, et al., Plaintiffs,
WYLA, INC., et al., Defendants.


          DONALD C. NUGENT United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF #15) on Plaintiffs' Complaint. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is granted.


         Plaintiff Marianne Kermavner and her husband, William Kermavner filed this action against Mrs. Kermavner's former employer Wyla, Inc., Charlene W. Walls[2], Wyla's Chief Operating Officer, and Joseph Wiener, the President of Wyla. The only remaining count in the Plaintiffs' Complaint is a claim for promissory estoppel under Ohio law.

         Defendant Wyla, Inc. is an independent designer and supplier of tulle, lace, nettings, novelty fabrics and related finished products. It is a privately owned corporation and its shareholders include Defendants Charlene Wilkins Walls (Chief Operating Officer) and Joseph Wiener (President). Plaintiff Marianne Kermavner met Ms. Walls and Mr. Wiener when she was working as a buyer for Jo-Ann Fabrics and Wyla Inc. was a fabric vendor for which Mrs. Kermavner had responsibility. After Mrs. Kermavner was downsized from Jo-Ann Fabrics in January 2006, she was hired by Wyla as its Director of Product Development beginning April 3. 2006. While Wyla's corporate headquarters, warehousing and distribution center are in Jacksonville Florida and its other offices are in New York and Hangzhou, China, Mrs. Kermavner performed her job duties from her home in Ohio throughout her tenure with Wyla.

         After its accountant notified Wyla that Mrs. Kermavner should have been classified as an independent contractor and not as an employee, Wyla informed Mrs. Kermavner that effective June 29, 2012, she would be transitioned from an employee to an independent contractor. Regardless of whether Mrs. Kermavner was an independent contractor or an employee, there was never any written contract or agreement for a specific term of employment.

         Plaintiffs state that they considered Mr. Wiener and Ms. Walls to be friends and that they participated in social and family gatherings together. Defendants agree that they would get together socially with the Plaintiffs when they were in Ohio. Thus, on December 16, 2013, the Kermavners went to dinner with Mr. Wiener and Ms. Walls at a restaurant in Hudson, Ohio. At that time the Kermavners wanted to build an addition to their home, but Mr. Kermavner wanted to get some assurance that Mrs. Kermavner's job was secure after she was switched to independent contractor status. While Mrs. Kermavner was away from the table, Mr. Kermavner states that he discussed the addition and Mrs. Kermavner's future at Wyla with Mr. Wiener and Ms. Walls. In his deposition Mr. Kermavner stated that while he didn't remember the exact words, Mr. Wiener said "her employment is good. She's got a job for as long as - as long as things are going well." Mr. Kermavner stated that Ms. Walls nodded along with Mr. Wiener, confirming what Mr. Wiener was saying. Mr. Kermavner later submitted an errata sheet to his deposition indicating that he meant to testify that Mr. Wiener stated that Mrs. Kermavner had a job "for as long as she wants." Both Mr. Wiener and Ms. Walls deny that he told Mr. Kermavner that Mrs. Kermavner would have a job for as long as things were going well or for as long as she wanted. After the dinner Mr. Kermavner told his wife that her job was secure and they could go forward with their addition. Mrs. Kermavner never followed up or confirmed this discussion with Mr. Wiener or Ms. Walls. Plaintiffs went ahead with their addition incurring debt of nearly $200, 000, of which approximately $100, 000 is still owed. The Kermavners' assert that they would not have gone forward with the addition or incurred the debt if Mr. Wiener "had not said what he said on December 16, 2013". (William Kermavner Declaration at ¶ 5; Marianne Kermavner Declaration at ¶ 8)

         Ms. Walls spoke with Mrs. Kermavner in August 2014 to discuss changes at JoAnn Stores and Mrs. Kermavner's diminishing role at Wyla. She stated that Wyla would be reducing her pay and encouraged Mrs. Kermavner to seek product development or promotion opportunities with other companies to make up the difference.

         On May 18, 2015, Ms. Walls telephoned Mrs. Kermavner to inform her that her services were being terminated. The termination was memorialized in a May 26, 2015 letter stating that her work with Wyla will end June 26, 2015.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the court is satisfied "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. Crv. P. 56(c). The burden of showing the absence of any such "genuine issue" rests with the moving party:

[A] part}' seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (citing FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). A fact is "material" only if its resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 411 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Determination of whether a factual issue is "genuine" requires consideration of the applicable evidentiary standards. The court will view the summary judgment motion in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Summary judgment should be granted if a party who bears the burden of proof at trial does not establish an essential element of their case. Tolton v. American Biodyne, Inc., 48 F.3d 937, 941 (6th Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). Accordingly, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiffs position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Copeland v. Machulis,57 F.3d 476, 479 (6th Cir. 1995) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). Moreover, if the evidence presented is "merely colorable" and not "significantly probative, " the court may decide the legal issue and grant summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). In most civil cases involving summary judgment, the court must decide "whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [non-moving party] is entitled to a verdict." Id. at 252. However, if the non-moving party faces a ...

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