Puentes v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 95-4374

Decision Date20 June 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-4374,95-4374
Citation86 F.3d 196
Parties71 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 106, 68 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 44,118, 65 USLW 2043, 65 USLW 2060 Julio N. PUENTES, Carlos Sardina, Raul J. Paredes, Plaintiffs, Sergio A. Balsinde, Lazaro O. Ginart, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellants, v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE INCORPORATED, Defendant-Counter-Claimant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

James E. Tribble, Hicks, Anderson & Blum, Miami, FL, for Appellants.

Murrary Hudson, Hogg, Allen, Norton & Blue, P.A., Coral Gables, FL, for Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before CARNES and BARKETT, Circuit Judges, and DYER, Senior Circuit Judge.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs, Lazaro Ginart and Sergio Balsinde, were terminated from their employment with the defendant, United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS"), after working for the company for fourteen and fifteen years, respectively. At the time of their terminations, both plaintiffs were offered substantial severance packages and the ability to "resign for personal reasons," on the condition that they execute unambiguous releases waiving all employment discrimination claims arising out of their terminations. 1 Both plaintiffs executed the releases.

Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against UPS alleging that they were unlawfully terminated as a result of employment discrimination "on the basis of national origin and/or race," as part of UPS's ongoing pattern of terminating management-level Hispanic employees and replacing them with non-Hispanics. UPS moved for summary judgment, asserting that the plaintiffs' claims were barred because each had knowingly and voluntarily executed documents releasing UPS from liability for all such claims. The district court granted summary judgment on that basis and certified its judgment pursuant

                to Rule 54(b). 2  The plaintiffs appeal from that summary judgment.   Because there is a question of material fact regarding whether the plaintiffs were given adequate time to review the releases before executing them, we reverse the judgment of the district court
                
DISCUSSION

In reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment, this Court must independently apply the same legal standards that control the district court. Thrasher v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 734 F.2d 637, 638 (11th Cir.1984). In doing this, we review the record and the district court's legal conclusions de novo. We must determine whether disputed issues of fact exist, but we cannot resolve factual disputes. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510-11, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). All evidence submitted must be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, who oppose the motion. See Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

When an employee knowingly and voluntarily releases an employer from liability for Title VII and § 1981 claims with a full understanding of the terms of the agreement, he is bound by that agreement. E.g., Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 52 & n. 15, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 1021 & n. 15, 39 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974); Freeman v. Motor Convoy, Inc., 700 F.2d 1339, 1352 (11th Cir.1983). However, the waiver of such remedial rights must be closely scrutinized. Freeman, 700 F.2d at 1352; see also Coventry v. United States Steel Corp., 856 F.2d 514, 522-23 (3d Cir.1988) ("In light of the strong policy concerns to eradicate discrimination in employment, a review of the totality of the circumstances, considerate of the particular individual who has executed the release, is also necessary.").

In determining whether a release was knowingly and voluntarily executed, courts look to the totality of the circumstances. Factors that guide a court include:

the plaintiff's education and business experience; the amount of time the plaintiff considered the agreement before signing it; the clarity of the agreement; the plaintiff's opportunity to consult with an attorney; the employer's encouragement or discouragement of consultation with an attorney; and the consideration given in exchange for the waiver when compared with the benefits to which the employee was already entitled.

Beadle v. City of Tampa, 42 F.3d 633, 635 (11th Cir.), cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2600, 132 L.Ed.2d 846 (1995); see also Gormin v. Brown-Forman Corp., 963 F.2d 323, 327 (11th Cir.1992).

The plaintiffs do not seriously contest that they each had sufficient business experience to evaluate the releases they were asked to sign, nor do they contest the clarity of the release language. Moreover, we agree with the district court that the consideration given in exchange for the waiver exceeds the benefits to which the plaintiffs were already entitled. That leaves as the plaintiffs' principal assertions that they were not given adequate time to consider the agreement, and that they were not given a fair opportunity to consult an attorney.

There is no bright-line test for determining what is a sufficient amount of time for an employee to consider a release and consult with an attorney before the employee is considered to have signed the release knowingly and voluntarily. See Carroll v. Primerica Fin. Servs. Ins. Mktg., 811 F.Supp. 1558, 1566 (N.D.Ga.1992) (holding that "there is a question as to whether Holt was given three full days or less than one day to sign her release," and that "[i]f she was given only one, then there is indeed a genuine issue as to whether she was given sufficient time"); E.E.O.C. v. American Express Publishing. Corp., 681 F.Supp. 216, 220 (S.D.N.Y.1988) (finding that "[t]hree days, while not conclusive as to involuntariness, is sufficiently short to create a question on the subject [for summary In this case, plaintiffs have given sworn testimony that they were only given twenty-four hours to decide whether to sign the releases, and that they understood that the offer would not be valid longer than that. UPS denies that it imposed a twenty-four hour time limitation upon the plaintiffs, but that is an issue to be decided by a jury. Plaintiff Ginart testified in his deposition that Saunders, the UPS manager terminating him, said, "I will give you 24 hours to make your decision...

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1 firm's commentaries
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    • March 9, 2016
    ...1, 8-9 (1st Cir. 2007); see also Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 714-15 (7th Cir. 2009); Puentes v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 86 F3d 196, 198 (11th Cir. 1996) ("When an employee knowingly and voluntarily releases an employer from liability for Title VII and § 1981 claims with a fu......
1 books & journal articles
  • Employment Discrimination - Richard L. Ruth
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 48-4, June 1997
    • Invalid date
    ...145. Id. at 1422. 146. Id. 147. Id. 148. 71 F.3d 848 (11th Cir. 1996). 149. Id. at 849. 150. Id. at 850. 151. Id. 152. Id. 153. Id. 154. 86 F.3d 196 (11th Cir. 1996). 155. Id. at 197. 156. Id. 157. Id. 158. Id. 159. Id. at 197-98. 160. Id. at 198. 161. Id. 162. Id. 163. Id. 164. Id. at 199.......

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