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Employment Blog

Walk-Off Home Run Beats Employer in the Bottom of the Ninth

Authored by Kevin J.T. Terry
Posted on June 20, 2013
Filed under Employment

All sports fans know that in baseball, it is a critical advantage to be the home team. This is because the home team bats last in the ninth inning and has the last crack at hitting the game winning home run. A recent case in New York (Allen v. Chanel, Inc.) illustrated why it is just as important to for an employer to be the "home" team when dealing with separation agreements and the signing of a release of claims. For those that are confused, let me explain.

A samples coordinator for Chanel's fashion division alleged that she was wrongfully terminated after reporting multiple instances of discrimination. At the time of her discharge, Chanel presented to her a "Separation and Release Agreement" that included a "General Release of Claims" that stated the employee released her claims against the company "including, but not limited to, claims of discrimination and harassment" among others. Chanel management, in the top of the ninth inning, signed the document and sent it to the employee, like a fastball down the heart of the plate, for her signature.

Five months later, the Chanel employee brought her discrimination claim. Chanel moved to dismiss the claim and pointed to the "General Release of Claims" for support. The court found for the employee and stated she "manifested an intent to preserve her right to file a discrimination claim." How did she do that?!

After Chanel management released their pitch, the employee had the last crack at the document. The employee signed the pre-signed agreement that Chanel sent, but not until after she re-typed the page with the general lease of claims. She used the same font, margins, and style, but changed the first two letters of the word "including" to read "excluding." The release now excluded claims of discrimination and harassment. The employee, and the home team, wins in the bottom of the ninth!

This story, and poor attempt at an analogy, can serve as a reminder to employers. Never pre-sign a Separation Agreement. Retain control of the document so that there is no dispute about what the parties are agreeing to. When you have the chance, always choose to bat last in these types of disputes.