Maust v. Bank One Columbus, N.A., 92AP-122

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Citation614 N.E.2d 765,83 Ohio App.3d 103
Docket NumberNo. 92AP-122,92AP-122
PartiesMAUST, Appellant, Maust, Appellee, v. BANK ONE COLUMBUS, N.A. et al., Appellees and Cross-Appellants. *
Decision Date15 September 1992

Page 103

83 Ohio App.3d 103
614 N.E.2d 765
MAUST, Appellant,
Maust, Appellee,
BANK ONE COLUMBUS, N.A. et al., Appellees and Cross-Appellants. *
No. 92AP-122.
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District, Franklin County.
Decided Sept. 15, 1992.

[614 N.E.2d 766]

Page 105

McCarthy, Palmer, Volkema & Becker and Robert G. Palmer, for appellant and appellee.

J. Michael Ozier and Eloise Gries Cookson, for appellees and cross-appellants.

PETREE, Judge.

Plaintiff, Allan B. Maust, appeals from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, which granted summary judgment to defendant Bank One Columbus, N.A. ("Bank One") and the individual defendants involved in the termination of plaintiff's employment from the bank. 1 The trial court found that plaintiff's claims stemming from his termination were preempted and precluded by operation of the National Bank Act, Section 24 (Fifth), Title 12, U.S.Code. While plaintiff has challenged this ruling on appeal, we find that plaintiff signed a valid release barring his claims in any event. Consequently, we must rule in favor of defendants on their cross-appeal and affirm the judgment of the common pleas court.


Plaintiff worked as a Cash Management Officer at Bank One selling cash management services to corporate customers from 1985 until October 1986 when he was forced to resign. In a meeting on October 17, 1986, his supervisor, Bruce Burton, told plaintiff that because of his poor performance the bank was offering him the opportunity to resign his position or be fired from it. Executive Vice President of Personnel, Michael Hager, told plaintiff that this was "the end of the road for you at Bank One, Allan." At this meeting, Hager offered plaintiff a document entitled "Termination Agreement and Release," which provided plaintiff

Page 106

with one month's worth of severance pay and employee benefits in exchange for his resignation and the release of any claims related to his employment. Plaintiff was upset and felt "very intimidated." He told Hager that he did not understand the agreement and refused to sign it. He also told the bank personnel that he felt he was being discharged "wrongfully" and that they were placing him in a "precarious financial position." Nevertheless, Hager gave him five days to consult with an attorney and consider the offer.

Plaintiff was distraught over the grave financial consequences that would result if [614 N.E.2d 767] he did not have any income between jobs. Only a year before this, he had uprooted from Texas to work at Bank One and his wife had still not secured a job. Further, on October 17, the bank froze his $15,000 line of personal credit and blocked his ability to use the account. After discussing the offer with his wife, plaintiff met with the bank personnel a few days later. Initially, he indicated that he would not sign the agreement and asked, "why shouldn't I take this to a lawyer?" This enraged Hager, who told plaintiff that he should go ahead and get a lawyer because the bank would " * * * fight you right down the line. You have no money, no means, nothing * * *. You will hurt yourself." Hager said the bank would fight plaintiff " * * * financially, in court, whatever you want." Hager then angrily ripped up the severance agreement and threw it in the trash. Though plaintiff did not feel physically threatened, he said Hager " * * * threatened me with go ahead, get a lawyer, you do what you want, we will bury you, basically." Plaintiff interpreted this as meaning that " * * * we can hound you. Bank One is a large firm. They have a long reach." He understood this to mean that if he did not sign the agreement then Hager would come after him. He took the threat seriously and was afraid because he felt that Bank One was powerful in the community and had ties to most organizations. Hager himself was in charge of thirteen thousand bank employees.

Immediately after this threat, plaintiff apologized to Hager and said that he would sign the agreement. Hager produced another copy of the agreement shortly thereafter. Plaintiff asked if he could sign the agreement with the notation "under duress," but Hager instructed him to put nothing else on it. Plaintiff then signed it as it was written. He said he did so because of " * * * the threat of Mr. Hager and the financial ruin of myself personally and his tearing up the initial termination severance agreement * * *." Thereafter, plaintiff was paid one month of severance pay and thirteen days of unused vacation pay, he was provided extended employee benefits, and he was given a letter of reference by Hager.

Bank One personnel portrayed a different version of the events. They said that at the October 22, 1986 meeting, plaintiff was the person who was angry and making threats. Hager said plaintiff threatened him with a lawsuit about the

Page 107

resignation. Hager felt that plaintiff was toying with him and trying to bargain for more severance pay. Indeed, Hager acquiesced in plaintiff's request for reimbursement of vacation pay and for a letter of reference. Hager admitted that he got angry when plaintiff kept making demands and would not sign the agreement.

Plaintiff filed the instant suit on September 29, 1989, alleging various contract and tort claims arising out of his termination. Bank One denied liability and moved for summary judgment on the basis of the October 1986 release. Plaintiff then claimed that the release was procured by fraud and signed under duress. When defendants made an issue of plaintiff's failure to tender back the consideration paid to him, plaintiff deposited $4,000 into court. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment predicated on the terms of the release, stating that the court was unable to conclude that there were no genuine issues of material fact to be tried.


Given these facts, defendants present the following assignment of error in their cross-appeal:

"The trial court erred in denying, by Decision of January 21, 1991, Appellees' Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of all claims relating to Appellant's employment based upon his release of...

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