If you want to offer a severance package to an employee in exchange for giving up the right to contest a discharge, give him plenty of time to consider the offer. If you don’t, the signed deal may not be final.
Recent case: Chirag, a Columbia University lab technician, held a foreign worker visa. He repeatedly clashed with his supervisor about working conditions, mainly claiming that he worked harder than his female colleagues.
Then Chirag was suspended when a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment.
The university offered to settle the allegations. The deal: Chirag would resign in exchange for a small severance payment, a good reference and compensation for his accumulated vacation and other leave. He had an hour to consider the offer, which had been negotiated with the assistance of a union representative. Chirag accepted the terms.
Almost immediately, he regretted signing, especially when he realized his permanent resident “green card” application would be rejected and he would lose his work visa.
Chirag sued, alleging he had signed the agreement under duress and wanted to revoke it.
As proof of duress, he told the court that in the hour he had to think over the offer, he couldn’t digest it all or think straight. Plus, he pointed out that the union rep wasn’t an attorney.
The university argued that the agreement was valid and binding. It pointed out that Chirag had help from his union when negotiating the deal.
The court refused to dismiss the case. It reasoned that there was some evidence of duress, including the short period of time between the offer and his decision and the fact that Chirag didn’t have legal counsel. The case will continue. (Mandavia v. Columbia University, No. 12-CIV-2188, SD NY, 2012)
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