379 F.3d 445 (7th Cir. 2004), 03-2752, Sims-Madison v. Inland Paperboard and Packaging, Inc.

Docket Nº:03-2752.
Citation:379 F.3d 445
Party Name:Johnnie SIMS-MADISON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. INLAND PAPERBOARD AND PACKAGING, INC. (f/k/a Inland Container Corp.), Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 11, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 445

379 F.3d 445 (7th Cir. 2004)

Johnnie SIMS-MADISON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

INLAND PAPERBOARD AND PACKAGING, INC. (f/k/a Inland Container Corp.), Defendant-Appellee.

No. 03-2752.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 11, 2004

Argued May 19, 2004.

Page 446

Denise K. LaRue, Philip J. Gibbons, Jr. (argued), Haskin, Lauter, Cohen & Larue, Indianapolis, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Roberta S. Recker (argued), Baker & Daniels, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before CUDAHY, RIPPLE, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge.

Johnnie Sims-Madison is an African-American woman who was employed at Inland Paperboard and Packaging's Evansville, Indiana, plant until early 2000, when she was fired for fighting with another employee. Sims-Madison brought a Title VII action, and the district court granted summary judgment to Inland. At the same time, the district court also said that it was enforcing a purported settlement agreement the parties had previously reached. Sims-Madison appeals, and we vacate and remand.

Page 447

I. BACKGROUND

Sims-Madison and a co-worker, Mike Faver, were fired for fighting in January 2000. The Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (the "Union"), which represented both employees under a collective bargaining agreement, immediately filed grievances protesting their terminations. The following month, Sims-Madison filed a charge with the EEOC alleging racial and gender discrimination and retaliation by Inland. She also hired attorney Kevin Kinkade to represent her.

In December 2000, while Sims-Madison and Inland were participating in the EEOC's mediation program, Kinkade sent the mediator a letter. This letter, which is the settlement agreement, 1 stated:

This letter serves to confirm that my client, Johnnie Sims Madison, has agreed to the following:

1) She will give up arbitration of her termination;

2) She will give up her EEOC Charge and not file any additional charges for any conduct which predates the Agreement;

3) She will agree that she will not be reinstated and cannot apply for re-employment with the company; and

4) She will execute a proper and appropriate release of claims.

In exchange, Kinkade wrote that Inland would pay Sims-Madison $30,000. William Hewett, an in-house attorney for Inland, also received a copy of the letter; on the letter below Kinkade's signature he handwrote "Agreed William D. Hewett 12/8/00" and returned the letter to Kinkade. Sims-Madison first saw this letter when Kinkade provided her with a copy a few days after he had sent it. Upon reading the letter, Sims-Madison immediately told Kinkade that she had never authorized him to settle the pending arbitration of her union grievance, as provided by the first point of the agreement. Accordingly, she refused to comply with the fourth point of the agreement and sign a release. Two months later, Hewett sent Kinkade a letter in which he wrote that Inland believed it had an enforceable agreement with Sims-Madison. Hewett's letter stated that Inland expected her to sign the release, and that it would pay her as soon as she did so. Sims-Madison again refused to sign the release and has continued to refuse ever since. Accordingly, Inland has never paid her the $30,000.

Despite the first point of the agreement that purported to drop Sims-Madison's union grievance, the Union and Inland proceeded in February 2001 to arbitrate the grievances concerning Sims-Madison's and Faver's terminations. In May, the arbitrator reduced both terminations to 60-day suspensions and awarded both employees backpay and benefits dating back to January 2000 (with the exception of the suspension period). Inland reinstated both employees, but paid backpay and benefits only to Faver. In July 2001, Sims-Madison (who had returned to work) sued Inland for firing her in January 2000, alleging that the company's actions were motivated by racial and gender discrimination and retaliation.

In its answer to Sims-Madison's complaint, Inland pleaded the affirmative defense of accord and satisfaction. Inland later moved for...

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