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Janice L. Roeder v. Drs. Battistoni & Beam

February 15, 2012

JANICE L. ROEDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DRS. BATTISTONI & BEAM, LTD.; RICHARD A. BATTISTONI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

BACKGROUND

This is an Age Discrimination in Employment ("ADEA") complaint. The administrative requisites of such claims have been fulfilled. The defendants and the plaintiff are all residents of this District. Jurisdiction exists and this is the proper venue.

Janice L. Roeder ("Roeder") is Plaintiff. Richard A. Battistoni ("Battistoni') and William R. Beam ("Beam") are dentists and Defendants along with their practice Drs. Battistoni and Beam, Ltd. ("LTD").

Summary judgment is sought by Defendants and the undisputed facts are these: Roeder worked as Front Desk Coordinator for LTD for nearly twelve years. As is true of all employees, Roeder received instruction to follow certain procedures established by management. The contents of one such instruction are disputed. Defendants claim it was a specific warning to Roeder; Roeders says it was a generalized note to all staff and that, until February 25, 2010 at least, she was never "singled out" for poor performance or attitude.

On February 25, 2010, Roeder was called to a meeting with Beam and given a note styled "Performance Discussion." According to Roeder the complaints she voiced to Beam had to do with his hostile demeanor, the bad conduct of a paid consultant, and retaliation for Roeder's complaint to Battistoni about Beam's wife who had taken away access to Roeder's computer so that Beam's wife could look for lamps to be used in redecorating the office. Roeder does not deny that the communication of February 25th addressed legitimate issues of employment. She did sign a written warning on February 25th but did so only because she would be fired, she was told, if she did not.

On November 2, 2010, Roeder met with the office manager and Battistoni who told her she had been a good employee but it was time to part company. In their motion for summary judgment Defendants declare that Battistoni told Roeder that she was terminated due to her repeated failure to comply with office practices, her attitude, and her resistance to changes in the office. Under the applicable rules, I accept, for purposes of this motion only, the Roeder version.

Also at the November 2nd meeting, Battistoni gave Roeder a Voluntary Separation Agreement and told her she had 21 days to look it over and sign it or not. The agreement itself contained this information. Roeder questioned why Battistoni was terminating her in order to create a job for the office manager's son's girlfriend. The office manager denied that this was true. Defendants say that the cover letter attached to the separation agreement advised her to seek legal counsel prior to signing the agreement. Roeder denies the letter which appears in the exhibit was attached or given to her. For purposes of this motion I accept her denial.

Roeder did sign the Agreement on or around November 21. Under its terms she received 6 weeks' salary and 5 days' vacation pay as consideration for the releases in the Agreement. If the Agreement were not signed she would not have received the payment. What was released were all employment claims including, explicitly, the ADEA claims arising prior to the Agreement. Post agreement conduct claims were not released. Disclosure of the Agreement to anyone other than her attorney was prohibited by the Agreement. The Agreement gave her the right to revoke her release of ADEA claims up to 7 days after signing the Agreement. Roeder did not revoke the release.

The Agreement contained standard language acknowledging a careful reading of the document, understanding the document, signing knowingly and voluntarily and agreeing not to sue for claims related to her employment and to pay for the employer's legal fees if she did sue. The employer undertook the same obligation as to fees.

At the bottom of the signature page Roeder wrote a further clause into the Agreement, that is, she would receive her profit-sharing funds which would be deposited in her IRA.

Roeder does not disagree with any of the facts offered with respect to her execution of the Agreement and its terms but states that she went along with the Agreement while under stress from the termination, which she believed unjustified, at the time in her life (age 60) when future employment (I infer this last clause) might be hard to find. "I only signed it because I was not eligible for the financial consideration that I needed if I did not. I signed it only for the financial reasons....I needed the money."

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, "a trial court must view the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Robin v. Espo Engineering Corp., 200 F.3d 1081, 1088 (7th Cir. 2000). This standard principle of summary judgment is applied with ...


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