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Hafner v. Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

March 6, 2017

RONALD HAFNER, Plaintiff,
v.
MITSUBISHI MOTOR MANUFACTURING OF AMERICA, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER & OPINION

          JOE BILLY McDADE United States Senior District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15). For the reasons explained below, Defendant's Motion is granted and the case is dismissed.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant's plant in Normal, Illinois on February 6, 1989. In July 2015, Defendant announced that its Normal Plant would be closing. The majority of the plant's operations would cease in November 2015 and the plant would be closed by May 2016. Defendant entered into negotiations with International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, and its local affiliated Local Union 2488 (“UAW”). Plaintiff was a member of UAW at all relevant times.

         Defendant and UAW entered into two agreements to govern the severance packages provided to employees. The first was the “Separation Agreement and Release for Associates” (“Release”). (Doc. 16-4). The Release was an eight page document intended to be the “complete resolution of any and all disagreements, disputes or claims arising out of Employee's employment and separation of that employment, except for those claims that are expressly preserved. . . .” (Doc. 16-4 at 1). The second was the “Letter of Understanding Severance Package” (“Letter”). (Doc. 16-3). The Letter was an eight page document from Defendant to UAW that explained the various severance benefits available to associates. (Doc. 16-3).

         The Letter created eight bands of benefits, which consisted, inter alia, of medical benefits, pension benefits, and a lump sum payment. An employee's band for benefit purposes was determined by a combination of the employee's age and years of service for the Defendant. At the time of the plant's closing, Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old and had twenty-six (26) years of service for the Defendant. This meant Plaintiff was eligible for the “A4” severance package, which consisted of a lump sum payment of $5, 000; access to an immediate, unreduced pension; sixteen (16) months of medical and prescription drug benefits; and an additional year of service and an additional year of age added to Plaintiff for the purposes of determining his pension.

         In exchange for the severance package, Plaintiff was required to sign the Release. The Release detailed the lump sum payment Plaintiff would receive and, in exchange, it would serve to release any and all claims between Plaintiff and Defendant. (Doc. 16-4). Plaintiff received the Letter and the Release on October 15, 2015. Plaintiff had until November 29, 2015 to sign the release. The Release allowed Plaintiff to revoke it within seven days of its execution. Additionally, the Release advised him to consult with an attorney. By signing the Release, Plaintiff acknowledged that he had read the Release carefully and understood its meaning and intent; that he had had an opportunity to have the Release explained to him by legal counsel and he understood the legal consequences; that he agreed to the terms of the Release and was voluntarily signing it; and that his only consideration for signing the Release was what the Release stated and no other promises or representations had been made to him.

         Plaintiff signed the Release on November 25, 2015. He did not revoke his acceptance. On November 30, 2015, Plaintiff's employment with Defendant terminated. He received his $5, 000 lump sum payment. Additionally, he has begun collecting a full, unreduced monthly pension of $1, 233. He would not have otherwise been eligible for a full, unreduced monthly pension until age 62.

         Plaintiff filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) and on December 7, 2015, the EEOC dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint and issued him a Notice of Right to Sue. (Doc. 1-2). On March 7, 2016, Plaintiff brought this Complaint alleging age discrimination, in violation of Section 4(a)(2) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (Doc. 1 at 1).

         On July 25, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (Doc. 6). Defendant asserted that Plaintiff had executed a waiver of his rights to bring an ADEA claim and attached a copy of the Letter and the Release to the motion. (Doc. 7 at 7). Plaintiff contended that his waiver could not be considered knowing and voluntary, because it does not meet statutory requirements for a knowing and voluntary waiver. (Doc. 12 at 4-11).

         Because the waiver issue required the Court to consider matters that were outside of the pleadings, the Court converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment about the waiver issue. (Doc. 14). On December 5, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 15). On January 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed his response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 19).

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment shall be granted where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. SMS Demag Aktiengesellschaft v. Material Scis. Corp., 565 F.3d 365, 368 (7th Cir. 2009). All inferences drawn from the facts must be construed in favor of the non-movant. Moore v. Vital Prods., Inc., 641 F.3d 253, 256 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To survive summary judgment, the “nonmovant must show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact remains on issues on which he bears the burden of proof at trial.” Warsco v. Preferred Tech. Grp., 258 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). If the evidence on record could not lead a reasonable jury to find for the non-movant, then no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See McClendon v. Ind. Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997). At the summary judgment stage, the ...


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