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Sheffield Metals Cleveland, LLC v. Kevwitch

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

November 13, 2017

Sheffield Metals Cleveland, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
Kimberly Kevwitch, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN United States District Court Chief Judge

         Introduction

         This matter is before the Court upon plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 27) and defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment of No Release[1] (Doc. 32). This case arises out of the termination of defendant's employment with plaintiff. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is GRANTED and defendant's motion is DENIED.

         Facts

         Plaintiff Sheffield M s Cleveland, LLC filed this Verified Complaint for Temporary Restraining Order, Preliminary Injunction and Permanent Injunctive Relief and Other Causes of Action against defendant Kimberly Kevwitch.[2]

         Briefly, the Complaint alleges that plaintiff hired defendant on March 4, 2013. As a condition of her employment, defendant was required to enter into an Employment Agreement. On September 9, 2016, plaintiff terminated defendant's employment. In consideration for a separation payment, defendant signed a Confidential Separation Agreement and General Release (hereafter, the Release). Plaintiff then filed its lawsuit against defendant for misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of contract. The parties entered into an agreed temporary restraining order through November 30, 2017.

         Defendant asserts three Counterclaims[3] which are the subject of the herein motion: Public policy wrongful discharge (First), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Second), and declaratory judgment that no release exists as a result of duress (Third). At the August 14, 2017 status conference, this Court agreed to decide, via motion for summary judgment, whether defendant released her counterclaims in exchange for compensation. The Court set an expedited briefing schedule for plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. The Court thereafter granted an extension of the briefing schedule. The parties agreed to take defendant's deposition only on the matters relating to the Release.

         The following relevant facts are before this Court. Defendant testified at deposition that on the date of her termination, September 9, she was called into the conference room and Joe LaCrue, her supervisor, handed her a document which was the Release and told her to “sign it if I wanted to get my last pay.” LaCrue told her not to ask him anything about the document because “he didn't know what was on it and didn't understand it.” Defendant “kind of” or “not really” looked at the paper. She could not remember whether she read the document but “I don't think I did” and she was “crying a lot.” Defendant signed and dated the document. Defendant signed it because LaCrue told her to sign it if she wanted to get her last check. (deft. depo. 15-20, 63)

         Defendant submits her declaration wherein she states that during the September 9 meeting, at which she was fired, Joe LaCrue presented her with a piece of paper and told her to sign it to receive her final pay. Defendant understood this to mean that she had to sign the paper to receive pay she had already earned during her employment. She was crying so hard that she was physically unable to read the paper. LaCrue told her that he did not know what the paper was, and not to ask him anything about it because he did not know anything about it. He refused to answer defendant's questions about the paper. (deft. decl.)

         The one page Release states, in part:

I. [Plaintiff] will give me a separation payment of $7, 700, less withholding for applicable taxes... I agree that I am not currently entitled to this money, and that [plaintiff] is only agreeing to pay it because of what I [ ] agreeing to in this Agreement.
***
3. I release [plaintiff] ... from all claims of any kind that arose before I signed this Agreement, except for claims which cannot be released under applicable law....
***
11. [Plaintiff] did not pressure me into signing this Agreement, nor did [plaintiff] promise me anything in exchange for signing this Agreement other than what is in writing on this document.

(deft. depo.Ex. 1)

         On September 12, 2016, defendant sent a letter, via email, to plaintiff 's human resources department stating, in part:

Re: My Refusal of the Severance Package at this time, on the Grounds of a 21 day legal period to review the severance letter document before signing it, and not receiving a copy of the severance letter document and I was not advised of any of my legal rights by Joe LaCrue, regarding the 21 day legal period of review before signing it.
Hello I am writing in regards to refuse the severance check at this time, due to signing the paperwork under extreme emotional distress and shock and feeling as if I did not have any other option but to sign the severance letter document, and then I subsequently sought legal advice, which has made me aware of right to review this document and its contents, which I have still not received a copy of and have legally up to 21 days to review the document before signing it, I would like to have a copy forwarded to me via email... so that I may forward to my lawyer to review the document with me, and to determine and confirm that I will be eligible for all my unemployment insurance benefits that I am entitled to...

(deft. depo.Ex 2) The letter further states, “After I have the 21 day, legal allotted period of time to sufficiently review the severance document with my lawyer, we will advise on how we will proceed at this time. I do expect my final pay, commissions and vacation time payout.” (Id.)

         Defendant had not consulted a lawyer, but had consulted her aunt who is a human resources director. (deft. depo. 23-30)

         Defendant was asked at deposition why she was under “extreme emotional distress” (as referenced in her letter) when she signed the Release. She responded, A. I just lost my job.

Q. Any other reason?
A. I was pretty upset.
Q. Why were you upset?
A. I lost my job.
Q. Did anyone make you sign the paperwork?
A. Yeah.
Q. Who made you sign it?
A. Joe.
Q. How did he make you sign it?
A. He said I have to sign it if I want to get my final pay.
Q. Was there anything else he did to make you sign the ...

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