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Kinney v. UniFirst Corp.

October 3, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas W. Phillips United States District Judge



This is an action for sex discrimination and sexual harassment pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Defendant contends that plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily released any such claims in exchange for four weeks of severance pay to which she was not otherwise entitled. Plaintiff denies that the release was knowingly and voluntarily executed.

Currently pending is the motion for summary judgment of the defendant with regard to the enforceability of the release [Court File #14]. For the reasons that follow, that motion will be denied.

I. Factual Background

The following factual background is considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and is taken from deposition testimony and her affidavit.

Defendant UniFirst first employed the plaintiff in its Knoxville, Tennessee office as a sales representative from 1992 until 1996, and again from 1998 until June 29, 2005, the date she was terminated. As of the date of her termination, the Knoxville office was part of the Atlanta Sales Region, headed by General Manager Bob Kersey. At that same time, Branch Manager Tim Wardell headed the Knoxville Branch and Sales Manager Brandon Kemp supervised the sales representatives in Knoxville, including plaintiff. Affidavit of Edie Kinney at ¶ 2.

In approximately May 2005, UniFirst informed Ms. Kinney that the sales representatives in the Atlanta Region, including the plaintiff, had to achieve a quota of 80% of their sales goals by August 2005. On June 27, 2005, plaintiff attended a meeting which she understood would be a sales meeting. She had no idea at the time that her termination was being considered. Managers Wardell and Kemp informed her at that meeting that General Manager Kersey had instructed them to terminate her for failure to meet the sales quota. Id. at ¶ 3. At that meeting, Managers Wardell and Kemp presented Ms. Kinney with a document entitled "Settlement Agreement and General Release" which, in relevant part, had the following provisions:

In consideration for the payment of $700 wk/four weeks (less applicable federal, state and local withholdings) from UniFirst Corporation to me, which I am not otherwise entitled to, and which I shall be entitled to receive seven days after I execute this Agreement, I, Edie Craine, hereby release UniFirst Corporation (which shall include its current and former directors, officers, managers, employees, agents, subsidiaries, affiliates, successors and assigns) from any and all claims, damages and causes of action I have or could claim to have against UniFirst Corporation. This release includes any and all claims relating to my employment by and resignation/termination from UniFirst Corporation effective July 1, 2005, including without limitation all claims for wages, vacation (other than earned/unused vacation that will be paid upon termination), bonuses, severance or any other form of compensation, all claims for wrongful discharge in contract or tort, all claims under any federal, state or local discrimination statute, including any claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 626, et seq., all claims for breach of contract, whether express or implied, and all claims for reinstatement, attorney's fees and costs.

I acknowledge that I have been given the opportunity, if I so desire, to consider this Agreement for twenty-one (21) days before executing it. In the event I have executed this Agreement within less than twenty-one (21) days of the date of its delivery to me, I acknowledge that such decision was entirely voluntary and I had the opportunity to consider this Agreement for the entire twenty-one-(21) day period. I acknowledge that for a period of seven (7) days from the date of the execution of this Agreement, I shall retain the right to revoke this Agreement by written notice to UniFirst Corporation, and that this Agreement shall not become effective or enforceable until the expiration of such revocation period. This Agreement represents the entire Agreement between myself and UniFirst Corporation and all previous agreements, arrangements or promises between myself and the UniFirst Corporation are superseded except for the Employment Agreement and Covenant Not To Compete, if any. I confirm that no claim, charge, complaint, or action exists in any forum or form. In the event that any such claim, complaint or action is filed, I shall not be entitled to recover any relief or recovery therefrom, including costs and attorney's fees.

I understand that if this Agreement and General Release are not signed, I would have the right to voluntarily assist other individuals and entities in bringing claims against UniFirst Corporation. I hereby waive that right and will not provide any such assistance other than assistance in an investigation or proceeding conducted by an agency of the United States Government or State Government.

I have read this Agreement, understand its terms, and have signed it voluntarily. I understand that this Agreement is a legal document and will have legal consequences. I have been given the opportunity to discuss this document with an attorney.

Defendant's Exhibit 1.

In her affidavit, Ms. Kinney claims that Managers Wardell and Kemp informed her that she had two options: she could sign the Agreement and receive two weeks of severance pay or she could sign the Agreement and receive four weeks of severance pay. She told them that she had questions about the Agreement, that she was not a "legal beagle," and that she would like to consult an attorney. Mr. Wardell responded that the Agreement was not worth the paper it was written on, and neither of the men offered to answer any questions or to give her ...

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