Are you going to discharge an employee you suspect may sue for retaliation or discrimination? Then you probably have already considered softening the blow with a severance agreement. Sometimes money has a way of preventing expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.
But don’t even consider drafting your own agreement. Always have an experienced attorney prepare the contract. He or she can help you avoid the many land mines ready to blow up the deal for Ohio employers. After all, paying severance and being sued is the worst possible outcome.
Recent case: Jennifer Turner, who worked for an American subsidiary of an Italian company, believed her managers resented women in the workplace.
Turner took for a bad back and pelvic pain. A few months after she returned to work, the HR VP told her that her job description was changing and that she would no longer be qualified. Her job had been effectively eliminated. The company offered her a severance package that included nine weeks of pay and benefits if she would give up the right to sue for workplace discrimination or retaliation. Turner signed the agreement and collected her pay and benefits.
Then, a month later she returned to visit former colleagues and was introduced to the man who replaced her. She sued for discrimination and retaliation, and also alleged that the agreement she signed violated fraud statutes.
The court carefully read the severance agreement and compared its specific contract language with Ohio’s state fraud laws. It concluded the agreement wasn’t fraudulent, and that she had in fact waived her right to sue. The court dismissed her lawsuit. (Turner v. Salvagnini America, No. CA2007-09-233, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 12th Appellate Division, 2008)
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