The last thing you want after settling a discrimination or harassment complaint is for the case to rear its ugly head again. That’s why settlement agreements should include clear language releasing you—the employer—from any further liability.
The agreement must also meet state contract law requirements. Otherwise, the employee could still sue, claiming the agreement either didn’t cover all his claims or wasn’t a valid contract.
Your best bet: Have your attorney prepare all your settlement agreements to make sure they meet state and federal laws.
Recent case: William Campbell, who is black, was a civilian employee of the U.S. Army. After he was accused of sexual harassment and ordered suspended for 28 days, he appealed through the Army’s internal system.
The Army agreed to reduce Campbell’s suspension to 19 days and close the sexual harassment case against him in exchange for Campbell’s promise not to pursue the matter further.
Campbell sued anyway, alleging he had been harassed after appealing the original suspension.
But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the agreement, concluded it was a valid contract and dismissed the case. It said the agreement was worded broadly enough to cover anything related to the original suspension and harassment investigation. (Campbell v. Geren, No. 09-1764, 4th Cir., 2009)
Final note: Don’t rely on form agreements. Always have a lawyer draft the settlement to make sure the contract will stick.
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