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Pattillo v. Arbor E&T LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 3, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant Arbor E&T, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19) on all of Plaintiff's claims. Because-as outlined below-the Court finds that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the parties intended that a previous settlement agreement covered these claims, the Court DENIES Arbor's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff invokes this Court's federal question and supplemental jurisdiction based on her alleged Title VII and state-law claims. Doc. 1, Compl., ¶¶ 3, 25-45 (alleging retaliation, hostile work environment, constructive discharge, cat's paw liability, and wrongful discharge[1]). Plaintiff worked for Arbor as a Talent Development Specialist from May 2012 through November 2014, during which time the alleged discrimination and retaliation took place. Id. ¶¶ 2, 9. Specifically, she alleges that Arbor and its employees discriminated against her “because she was a woman who had recently given birth and exercised her rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act related to lactation, ” as well as engaged in other protected activities. Id. ¶¶ 2, 43. The majority of the alleged discrimination took place in the later half of 2014, after Plaintiff returned from her Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave in September. See Id. ¶¶ 11-23.

         In response to this perceived discrimination, Plaintiff lodged complaints with the both the Department of Labor-Wage and Hour Division (DOL-WHD) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Plaintiff filed her charge with the DOL-WHD on or about October 16, 2014. Doc. 23, Pl.'s Resp. App'x, 1 (Pl.'s Decl., ¶ 3). While the DOL-WHD investigation was pending, Plaintiff filed her charge with the EEOC on January 20, 2015. Id. at 2 (Pl.'s Decl., ¶ 4).

         On September 4, 2015, the parties entered into a settlement agreement facilitated by the DOL-WHD.[2] Id. at 6. Plaintiff signed both the settlement agreement and a form acknowledging receipt of the settlement monies (DOL Form WH-58, the “receipt form”) on that date. Id. at 4-6. Both documents described the claims that Plaintiff was settling. The Settlement Agreement itself stated:

Complainant agrees that acceptance of this Agreement constitutes settlement in full of any and all claims against Employer arising out of Complainant's complaint filed with the Wage and Hour Division on October 16, 2014 and will result in closure of the investigation.

         Doc. 23, Pl.'s Resp. App'x, 6 (emphasis added). Meanwhile, the receipt form contained more narrow language-that in exchange for back wages and liquidated damages, Plaintiff gave up her right to bring suit under Section 16(b) of the FLSA or Section 107 of the FMLA:

Notice to Employee: Your acceptance of this payment of wages and/or other compensation due under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), based on the findings of the [DOL-WHD] means that you have given up the right you have to bring suit on your own behalf for the payment of such unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation for the period of time [April 6, 2013 to April 4, 2015] and an equal amount in liquidated damages, plus attorney's fees and court costs under Section 16(b) of the FLSA or Section 107 of the FMLA. Generally, a suit for unpaid wages or other compensation, including liquidated damages, must be filed within two years of a violation of the FLSA or FMLA. Do not sign this receipt unless you have actually received this payment in the amount indicated above.

Id. at 4 (emphasis added). Although both Plaintiff and Arbor were aware of Plaintiff's still-pending EEOC charge, neither the settlement agreement nor the receipt form acknowledged that outstanding investigation. See Id. at 2 ¶ 5; 4-6.

         Indeed it was not until two years after the DOL-WHD agreement was reached that the EEOC terminated its processing of Plaintiff's charge and Plaintiff received her Notice of Right to Sue on her Title VII claims. Doc. 23, Pl.'s Resp. App'x, 9. She filed her claims in this Court within the requisite 90-day window, on May 10, 2018. See Doc. 1, Compl.

         Arbor then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on October 9, 2018 with brief and appendix in support (Docs. 19, 20 & 21). Instead of addressing the elements of Plaintiff's claims directly, Arbor moved for summary judgment on the affirmative defenses of accord and satisfaction, release, and waiver, citing predominately Texas law. Doc. 20, Def.'s Br. Summ. J., 10-14. Plaintiff responded that whether a Title VII release was properly obtained is actually a matter of federal, not state law, and the prior settlement agreement did not waive her Title VII claims because, inter alia, (1) the DOL did not have jurisdiction over Title VII claims and therefore could not have intended for her to have waived these claims; (2) a waiver of her Title VII claims would be impermissibly “prospective”; (3) the receipt form limited the waiver of her claims to the FLSA and FMLA; (4) and neither signed document mentioned Title VII. Doc. 22, Pl.'s Resp., 10-12. She too attached an appendix (Doc. 23).

         Arbor replied with federal caselaw to support its arguments on release and waiver: that Title VII need not be explicitly mentioned in a settlement agreement for Plaintiff's waiver of such claims to be valid. Doc. 24, Def.'s Reply, 2. While Arbor admits that the totality of the circumstances must be considered, Arbor objects to the use of certain portions of Plaintiff's Declaration, in which she describes her understanding of the settlement, and which was attached as evidence to Plaintiff's Response. Id. at 2-3. ...

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