United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
CANDACE L. WARREN, Plaintiff,
MASTERY CHARTER SCHOOLS, Defendant.
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, JUDGE
an employment case for race and age discrimination. The
Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss, or in the
alternative, for summary judgment, based on a release of all
employment claims that the Plaintiff signed in exchange for
severance benefits. Ultimately, with the benefit of briefing
and oral argument, the Court will construe the motion as a
motion for summary judgment, and grant it.
Candace Warren (“Warren”) is an African-American
woman over forty years of age with a master's degree.
See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9, ECF No. 4. Warren
was employed by Defendant, Mastery Charter Schools
(“Mastery”) from 2011 to 2016 as a social worker.
Id. ¶¶ 10-13. Each year, Warren would get
a one-year employment contract, which would then be renewed
for the next year. See Id. ¶ 30. During most of
her tenure at Mastery, Warren received positive feedback
about her job performance. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.
She also received raises and bonuses based on her employee
evaluation ratings. Id. ¶ 25. However,
Mastery's Regional Director, Debbie Durso, decided not to
renew Warren's contract at the end of the 2016 school
year, based on allegations of poor performance and
communications issues. Id. ¶ 30. Accordingly,
in late April 2016, Mastery informed Warren that it did not
intend to renew her contract. See Id. ¶ 30.
on June 23, 2016, the day before Warren's last day of
employment with Mastery, Mastery sent Warren a proposed
severance agreement containing a release of employment claims
(hereinafter, “Agreement and Release”) for her
review. Decl. of Theresa Velykis, ¶ 6,
Def's Mot. Ex. 2, ECF No. 7-2. The Agreement and Release
explained that, regardless of whether Warren signed it, she
would receive every benefit that she was already entitled to,
including accrued salary and pay for vacation time. Def's
Mot. Ex. 1, ECF No. 7-1. It further provided that, if she did
agree and sign the Agreement and Release, she would get
severance benefits that she was not otherwise entitled to -
including four additional weeks' worth of pay.
Id. ¶¶ 2.1 - 2.3. In exchange for these
severance benefits, Warren would waive any and all
employment-related claims against Mastery. Id.
¶¶ 5.1 - 5.4.
had twenty-one days to consider this offer. See Id.
¶ 7. Also, if she agreed and signed the Agreement and
Release, she could revoke her agreement within seven days.
Id. The Agreement and Release contained, in three
places, the suggestion that Warren consult with an attorney
before she agreed and signed. See Id. For example,
it contained the following paragraph, in capitalized and
PLEASE READ THIS AGREEMENT VERY CAREFULLY. THIS AGREEMENT
INCLUDES A RELEASE OF ALL KNOWN AND UNKNOWN CLAIMS, INCLUDING
THOSE ALLEGING EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION, AND BARS FUTURE
LEGAL ACTION AGAINST EMPLOYER BY EMPLOYEE FOR CLAIMS ARISING
PRIOR TO THE EXECUTION OF THIS AGREEMENT. YOU SHOULD CONSULT
WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE SIGNING THE AGREEMENT.
Id. at 7 (emphasis in original). Additionally, the
Agreement and Release included language stating that, by
signing, Warren was acknowledging that she was doing so in a
knowing and voluntary manner. Id. ¶ 8.
Warren's relationship with Mastery deteriorated, she
experienced significant stress. Warren Aff. ¶ 15, ECF
No. 8- 3. This stress caused Warren to suffer from rashes,
hair loss, depression, and anxiety. Pl's Br. at 6, 8, ECF
No. 8. When Mastery offered her the choice of signing the
Agreement and Release in exchange for severance benefits,
Warren worried that if she did not sign, Mastery would use
its influence to impair her employment opportunities with
future potential employers. Warren Aff. ¶¶ 18-20.
With this worry in mind, Warren thought about whether she
wished to sign the Agreement and Release for the full
twenty-one day consideration period, finally signing it on
the twenty-first day. Pl's Br. at 9. Warren explains
that, because she was under stress and was worried that
Mastery would interfere with her future employment prospects,
she felt that she had “no choice” but to sign the
Agreement and Release. Id.
filed this action against Mastery on October 25, 2017, ECF
No. 1, and then filed an Amended Complaint on February 1,
2018, ECF No. 4. The Amended Complaint contains claims for
employment discrimination based on age and race, in violation
of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title
VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29
U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and the Pennsylvania Human
Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §
951 et seq. See Id. ¶¶ 32-62.
has filed a motion to dismiss Warren's claims, or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment, based on the Agreement and
Release. ECF No. 7. Warren has filed a response in opposition
thereto. ECF No. 8. Accordingly, Mastery's motion is ripe
Warren correctly points out, Mastery's motion should be
construed as a motion for summary judgment, because it is
based on the Agreement and Release - a matter outside the
pleadings. Warren does, however, agree that the Court may
properly rule on Mastery's motion as a motion for summary
judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A
motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by
‘the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but
will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material
fact.” Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott
Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-48 (1986)). A fact is “material” if proof of
its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the
litigation, and a dispute is “genuine” if
“the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248.
Court will view the facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. “After making all reasonable
inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a
genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could
find for the nonmoving party.” Pignataro v. Port
Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir.
2010). While the moving party bears the initial burden of
showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,
meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the nonmoving
party who must “set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
as in this case, a purported motion to dismiss invites
consideration of matters outside of the pleadings, the Court
may convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment.
SeeKulwicki v. Dawson,969 F.2d 1454, 1463
n. 11 (3d Cir. 1992) (“[T]he decision to convert a
motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment is
generally committed to the district court's discretion
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.”). Summary judgment is
appropriate at this stage because the parties had adequate
notice that the motion was converted, as well as an adequate
opportunity to ...