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Townsend v. Adams 12 Five Star Schools

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 7, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 18]. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On March 16, 2006, plaintiff Catherine Townsend began working for defendant Adams 12 Five Star Schools, a public school district in Colorado, as a construction project manager. Docket No. 18 at 2, ¶ 1.[2] Plaintiff has a business management degree from the University of Phoenix as well as a degree in construction management from Cal State Hayward. Docket No. 18 at 8, ¶ 48. Her employment with defendant was governed by a series of one-year contracts that were renewed through 2014. Id., ¶ 2.

         As a project manager, plaintiff oversaw various construction projects throughout the school district. Docket No. 1 at 2, ¶ 10. She often worked closely with the Resources Operations Department to facilitate the project bidding process. See id., ¶ 12; Docket No. 18 at 8, ¶ 49; Docket No. 23-2 at 4, 49:24-52:22. Plaintif f’s specific duties included preparing contracts, work orders, and bidding documents for the projects to which she was assigned. Docket No. 18 at 8, ¶ 49.

         On or about May 14, 2015, defendant informed plaintiff that her contract was not being renewed for the following school year. Docket No. 18 at 7, ¶ 40. Defendant gave plaintiff a proposed separation agreement. Id., ¶ 42. The terms of the separation agreement were that plaintiff would “resign effective May 13, 2015” and be placed on paid administrative leave from May 13, 2015 to June 30, 2015, during which time she would continue to receive her “proportionate share of accrued temporary leave and vacation . . . pursuant to the terms of the Administrative Employees’ Compensation Program Handbook.” Id., ¶ 43; Docket No. 18-8 at 2, ¶¶ 1-3. The agreement also included an express waiver of “any and all actions, causes of action, . . . and liabilities . . . . aris[ing] out of, relat[ing] to, or . . . based upon” plaintiff’s employment, including claims arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Docket No. 18 at 8, ¶ 44; Docket No. 18-8 at 2-3, ¶ 5.[3] Plaintiff reviewed the agreement for several days before signing it on May 18, 2015. Docket No. 18 at 8, ¶ 45. She also consulted an attorney regarding the terms of the agreement. Docket No. 18 at 8, ¶ 47.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on September 19, 2016, asserting claims for sexual discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Docket No. 1. On August 21, 2017, defendant moved for summary judgment on both claims. Docket No. 18.


         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when 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); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if its current and former directors, employees, board members, under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City & Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir. 2005). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Where “the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden at the summary judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant’s claim.” Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., 252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998)). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1518 (10th Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but instead must designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant must establish, at a minimum, an inference of the presence of each element essential to the case.” Bausman, 252 F.3d at 1115. When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant argues it is entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily released all claims arising out of her employment with defendant when she signed the separation agreement. Docket No. 18 at 8.

         “Title VII . . . employment discrimination claims may be waived by agreement, but the waiver of such claims must be knowing and voluntary.” Torrez v. Pub. Serv. Co. of New Mexico, Inc., 908 F.2d 687, 689 (10th Cir. 1990). To determine whether a waiver was knowing and voluntary, courts in this circuit consider the totality of circumstances under which the release of liability was signed, including:

(1) the clarity and specificity of the release language; (2) the plaintiff’s education and business experience; (3) the amount of time plaintiff had for deliberation about the release before signing it; (4) whether [p]laintiff knew or should have known his rights upon execution of the release; (5) whether plaintiff was encouraged to seek, or in fact received benefit of counsel; (6) whether there was an opportunity for negotiation of the terms of the Agreement; and (7) whether the consideration given in exchange ...

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