Faris v. Williams Wpc-I, Inc., No. 02-50446.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtJerry E. Smith
Citation332 F.3d 316
PartiesCarol FARIS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. WILLIAMS WPC-I, INC., et al., Defendants, Nextira LLC, Also Known as Williams Communications Solutions LLC; Susan Baird, In Her Individual Capacity, Defendants-Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 02-50446.
Decision Date27 May 2003
332 F.3d 316
Carol FARIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WILLIAMS WPC-I, INC., et al., Defendants,
Nextira LLC, Also Known as Williams Communications Solutions LLC; Susan Baird, In Her Individual Capacity, Defendants-Appellants.
No. 02-50446.
United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.
May 27, 2003.

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Mark Anthony Sanchez (argued), Christopher J. Gale, Gale, Wilson & Sanchez, San Antonio, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

J. Tullos Wells, Julia M. Gonzalez Rendon (argued), Bracewell & Patterson, San Antonio, TX, for Defendants-Appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before GARWOOD, SMITH and BARKSDALE, Circuit Judges.

JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:


Nextira LLC ("Nextira") and Susan Baird appeal a determination that a post-termination release signed by Carol Faris was unenforceable under 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d), a regulation issued pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"). Concluding that enforcement of the release is not prohibited by the regulation, and that the release was ratified by Faris's failure to tender back the consideration paid for the signing of the release, we reverse and render judgment for appellants.

I.

Faris worked as an occupational health specialist for Nextira from November 1997 to June 1999, when Baird, her supervisor, terminated her, citing poor performance. Faris received two weeks' pay in lieu of notice. On the same day, she was offered an additional $4,063.32, the equivalent of one month's salary, in exchange for signing a release that purported to waive her rights to, inter alia, "all other claims arising under any other federal, state or local law or regulation;" it did not specifically mention the FMLA. She also received a memorandum advising that she had 45 days to consider the release and seven days to revoke if she signed, though the parties dispute whether she was so advised verbally.1 Faris signed the release and received $4,063.32; she understood that the payment was in return for the signing of the release. She has not tendered back the payment.

Faris sued Nextira and Baird (collectively, "Nextira"), asserting she was fired in retaliation for asserting her rights under the FMLA. Following discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment as to the enforceability of the release, and Faris moved for partial summary judgment on whether the release was per se unenforceable under § 825.220(d) ("the regulation").

The court denied defendants' motion and granted Faris's, holding that the plain language of the regulation dictated that FMLA claims are not waivable. The district court certified the questions of law addressed in its summary judgment order under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), and we granted defendants leave to bring this interlocutory appeal.

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II.

Defendants assert that the district court erred in its determination that the plain language of the regulation renders Faris's waiver void, arguing instead that, under a plain language reading, the regulation does not reach the waivability of post-termination FMLA claims. Defendants contend, in the alternative, that, if the regulation is ambiguous, the relevant law under similar statutory schemes, and the common law presumption of and favor toward waivability, also support a limited reading of the regulation.2 We conclude that the proper reading of the regulation is that it does not apply to post-dispute claims for damages under the FMLA.

We review de novo a grant or denial of summary judgment, NCNB Tex. Nat'l Bank v. Johnson, 11 F.3d 1260, 1264 (5th Cir.1994), applying the same standard as did the district court, Deas v. River W., L.P., 152 F.3d 471, 475 (5th Cir.1998). "Summary judgment is proper when no issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Questions of fact are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and questions of law are reviewed de novo." Id.

A.

Defendants argue that the plain language of the regulation demonstrates that it does not reach retaliation claims under FMLA by former employees. Defendants focus in part on the meaning of the term "employee," reasoning that the term implicitly refers only to current employees and cannot extend to former employees. Faris argues that the plain language does reach former employees, and this was the district court's conclusion.

The regulation reads, in relevant part: "Employees cannot waive, nor may employers induce employees to waive, their rights under FMLA." 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d). FMLA § 2611(3) defines "employee" by reference to the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 203(e), which provides that "the term `employee' means any individual employed by an employer."

This definition, by itself, is unhelpful. In Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 323, 112 S.Ct. 1344, 117 L.Ed.2d 581 (1992), the Court stated that this definition, as applied under ERISA, "is completely circular and explains nothing." The term "employee" may have different meanings in different acts, or even in different provisions of the same act. See Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 341-44, 117 S.Ct. 843, 136 L.Ed.2d 808 (1997) (considering the meaning of employee in the title VII context). In Robinson, the Court noted that although some sections of title VII unambiguously refer to only current or past employees,

those examples at most demonstrate that the term "employees" may have a plain meaning in the context of a particular section — not that the term has the same meaning in all other sections and in all other contexts. Once it is established that the term "employees" includes former employees in some sections, but not in others, the term standing alone is necessarily ambiguous and each section must be analyzed to determine whether the context gives

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the term a further meaning that would resolve the issue in dispute.

Id. at 343-44 (citations omitted). Similarly, the term "employee" is ambiguous as used in the FMLA, because in various contexts it refers to only current employees, but in other situations it refers to former employees.3 We must look at the context in which the term is used to see whether the waiver prohibition applies to retaliation claims.

The term "employee," throughout § 825.220, appears consistently to refer to current employees. Several uses unambiguously refer to current employees only. Section 825.220(b)(1) prohibits "transferring employees from one worksite to another for the purpose of reducing worksites, or to keep worksites, below the 50-employee threshold for employee eligibility under the Act[.]" Because one can transfer only a current employee, this use is unambiguous. Similarly, § 825.220(c) prohibits employers "from discriminating against employees or prospective employees who have used FMLA leave." By distinguishing between "employees" and "prospective employees," the regulation implies that "employee" describes...

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33 practice notes
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register November 17, 2008
    • November 17, 2008
    ...past claims for FMLA violations with employers without the approval of the Department or a court) with Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316 (5th Cir. 2003) (plain reading of the Department's regulation prohibits prospective waiver of rights only and not retrospective settlement of cl......
  • Hays Med. Ctr. v. Azar, No. 17-3232
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • April 21, 2020
    ...Cir. 2008) ("[T]he CFTC waived any reliance on Chevron by failing to raise it to the district court."); Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc. , 332 F.3d 316, 319 (5th Cir. 2003) ("This [Chevron ] argument was not presented to nor passed on by the district court, and therefore may not be considered ......
  • Jann v. Interplastic Corp., Civ. No. 09-721 (RHK/JJK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • July 7, 2009
    ...individuals may be required to arbitrate FMLA claims, notwithstanding the text of Section 825.220(d). See Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316, 320-21 (5th Cir.2003) (holding that 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d) "applies only to [the] waiver of substantive rights under the [FMLA], such as rig......
  • Taylor v. Progress Energy, Inc., No. 04-1525.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 3, 2007
    ...Id. But the DOL then seeks to narrow the scope of the regulation even further by adopting the holding of Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316 (5th Cir.2003). See DOL Amicus Br. at 6 (noting "Department's and [Faris's] plain reading" of section 220(d)); id. at 4-5 (endorsing district ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Hays Med. Ctr. v. Azar, No. 17-3232
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • April 21, 2020
    ...Cir. 2008) ("[T]he CFTC waived any reliance on Chevron by failing to raise it to the district court."); Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc. , 332 F.3d 316, 319 (5th Cir. 2003) ("This [Chevron ] argument was not presented to nor passed on by the district court, and therefore may not be considered ......
  • Jann v. Interplastic Corp., Civ. No. 09-721 (RHK/JJK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • July 7, 2009
    ...individuals may be required to arbitrate FMLA claims, notwithstanding the text of Section 825.220(d). See Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316, 320-21 (5th Cir.2003) (holding that 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d) "applies only to [the] waiver of substantive rights under the [FMLA], such as rig......
  • Taylor v. Progress Energy, Inc., No. 04-1525.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 3, 2007
    ...Id. But the DOL then seeks to narrow the scope of the regulation even further by adopting the holding of Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316 (5th Cir.2003). See DOL Amicus Br. at 6 (noting "Department's and [Faris's] plain reading" of section 220(d)); id. at 4-5 (endorsing district ......
  • Whiting v. The Johns Hopkins Hosp., Civil No. WDQ-09-1619.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • January 6, 2010
    ...(section 220(d) prohibits employees from settling past claims for FMLA violations with employers) with Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316 (5th Cir.2003) (section 220(d) prohibits only prospective waiver of rights). 6. The Fourth Circuit's decision in Taylor was based primarily on t......
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