United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OPINION
SHARION AYCOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission and receiving a
“right-to-sue” letter, John Friar filed his
Complaint  in this Court alleging that his former
employer, Syntron Material Handling, LLC, wrongfully fired
him because of his race and age. Friar is an African American
male over the age of sixty. Now before the Court is
Syntron's Motion for Summary Judgment  requesting
judgment in its favor, and dismissal of all of Friar's
claims with prejudice. The issues are fully briefed and ripe for
and Procedural Background
worked for Syntron and its predecessor company from May, 1974
until he was terminated in May, 2015. At the time of his
termination, Syntron informed Friar that he was being
terminated as part of a reduction-in-force along with about
twenty other employees. Syntron presented a Severance and
Release Agreement to Friar, which he executed. Syntron also
presented severance benefits totaling $16, 628.76 to Friar,
which he accepted.
to Friar, he was told during his termination meeting that his
termination did not have anything to do with his performance,
and that his position was simply being eliminated as part of
a company-wide reduction-in-force. Shortly after his
termination, Friar observed a classified advertisement
seeking applicants for his former position. Friar now alleges
that the real reason Syntron fired him was because of his
race and age, and that the reduction-in-force justification
provided to him was mere pretext to hide the real reason.
Friar further alleges that he would not have signed the
Severance and Release Agreement if he had known that his
position was not being eliminated, and that he was instead
being fired because of his age, race, or performance.
argues that the Severance and Release Agreement bars
Friar's complaint because he waived any right to sue
under the Agreement. Thus, the issue now before the Court is
whether there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to
both whether the Agreement is valid, and if so, whether it
acts to bar Friar's claims.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary
judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine
dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after
adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party
who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case,
and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
moving party “bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion and
identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The
nonmoving party must then “go beyond the
pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'”
Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In
reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be
resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . .
. both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory
facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. When such
contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make
credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.”
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S.
133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).
and Release Agreement
Court, and the Fifth Circuit, has previously held, “A
release waiving rights under Title VII must be both knowing
and voluntary.” Young v. Domtar Paper Co.,
LLC, No. 1:11-CV-236-SA, 2012 WL 2160442, at *2 (N.D.
Miss. June 13, 2012) (quoting Rogers v. Gen. Elec.
Co., 781 F.2d 452, 454 (5th Cir. 1986)). An employee may
validly release only those Title VII claims arising from
“discriminatory acts or practices which antedate the
execution of the release.” Id. Under this
approach, the moving party has the burden of
“establish[ing] that his opponent signed a release that
addresses the claims at issue, received adequate
consideration, and breached the release”. Id.
(citing Williams v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 23 F.3d
930, 935 (5th Cir. 1994)). Once this is established,
“the opponent has the burden of demonstrating that the
release was invalid because of fraud, duress, material
mistake, or some other defense.” Id. The Court
examines the totality of the circumstances to determine
whether the releasor has established an appropriate defense.
Id. (citing O'Hare v. Global Natural Res.,
Inc., 898 F.2d 1015, 1017 (5th Cir. 1990)). The
following factors are relevant in determining whether the
employee has established a defense to the validity of the
(1) the plaintiff's education and business experience,
(2) the amount of time the plaintiff had possession of or
access to the agreement before signing it, (3) the role of
[the] plaintiff in deciding the terms of the agreement, (4)
the clarity of the agreement, (5) whether the plaintiff was
represented by or consulted with an attorney, and (6) whether
consideration given in exchange for the waiver exceeds
employee benefits to which the employee was already entitled
by contract or law.
Id. (citing Smith v. Amedisys, Inc., 298
F.3d 434, 441 (5th Cir. 2002)). “No single factor is
necessarily dispositive in this analysis.” Id.
(citing Uherek v. Houston Light & Power Co., 997
F.Supp. 789, 792 (S.D. Tex. 1998)).
waiver must also be “knowing and voluntary”
within the context of the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. as
amended by the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act (OWBPA)
29 U.S.C. § 626(f)(1). Under these statutes, “to
constitute a knowing and voluntary waiver, the release must
meet specific statutory requirements such as specifically
referring to the ADEA, advising the individual to consult
with an attorney, and providing a grace period to consider
signing the agreement.” McDaniel v. Momentive
Specialty Chemicals, Inc., No. 4:13-CV-1235, 2014 WL
2722746, at *2 (S.D. Tex. May 29, 2014) (citing Blakeney
v. Lomas Info. Sys., Inc., 65 F.3d 482, 484 (5th Cir.
1995); 29 U.S.C. §§ 626(f)(1)(B), (E), (F)). The
ADEA requirements are the “minimum” that need to
be established for a waiver to be considered knowing and