Daugherty v. Mapco Express Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Karon O Bowdre on 6/19/2012. (FNC)
2012 Jun-19 PM 04:26
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MAPCO EXPRESS, INC.,
This matter comes before the court on Defendant MAPCO Express, Inc’s Motion for
Summary Judgment (doc. 29) and Plaintiff Darlene Daugherty’s Motion to Strike the Affidavit of
Mike Terrell (doc. 35), which she filed contemporaneously with her brief opposing MAPCO’s
motion for summary judgment (doc. 34). MAPCO moves for summary judgment on Ms.
Daugherty’s Title VII claim that she was terminated based on gender. MAPCO argues that Ms.
Daugherty contractually released any Title VII claims when MAPCO terminated her, and,
alternatively, that she cannot prove her case on the merits. The parties have fully briefed the
issues and the motions are ripe for consideration. For the reasons stated below, the court
concludes that the release is valid and enforceable, and, accordingly that summary judgment is
due to be GRANTED. In granting summary judgment, the court further concludes that the
motion to strike is due to be DENIED, and MAPCO’s request for attorneys’ fees pursuant to the
severance agreement is also due to be DENIED.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ms. Daugherty filed this lawsuit alleging that MAPCO violated her rights under Title VII
by terminating her employment because of her gender. MAPCO responded to her complaint with
a motion to dismiss, or, alternatively, motion for summary judgment (doc. 5), asserting that Ms.
Daugherty’s claim was barred by a release she signed as part of a six-month severance package
she received when MAPCO terminated her employment. Ms. Daugherty filed a response (doc.
11) raising the contractual defense of fraud in the inducement and arguing that she did not
knowingly and voluntarily execute the release. Alternatively, she argued that even if the release
were enforceable, her claims did not “arise” until after she executed the severance agreement,
and, therefore, were expressly exempted from the release.
The court denied MAPCO’s motion to dismiss (docs. 14 & 15), explaining that
allegations of fraud and a bona fide contractual dispute are fact-intensive by nature, and that
MAPCO’s arguments for dismissal were not ripe at that stage of the proceedings. The court
stated that MAPCO could reassert its argument after the parties had adequate opportunity to
engage in discovery.
The parties have since completed discovery, and MAPCO filed its motion for summary
judgment. MAPCO argues that the court should enter judgment in its favor because the release
bars her claim, or, alternatively, because the evidence does not support Ms. Daugherty’s claim.
Ms. Daugherty maintains that MAPCO procured the release by fraud and that her claims arose
after she signed the release. She also asserts that she has sufficient evidence of gender
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is an integral part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Summary
judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present
and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a
district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: (1) whether
any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56). The moving party can meet this burden by offering
evidence showing no dispute of material fact or by showing that the non-moving party’s evidence
fails to prove an essential element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322–23. Rule 56, however, does not require “that the moving party support
its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent’s claim.” Id.
Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine
issues of material fact exist, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to demonstrate that
there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats &
Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Disagreement between the parties is not
significant unless the disagreement presents a “genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251–52 (1986) In responding to a motion for summary
judgment, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material fact.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its]
own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,’
designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324
(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)) (emphasis added); see also Advisory Committee Note to 1963
Amendment of Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e), 28 U.S.C. app. (“The very mission of summary judgment
procedure is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a
genuine need for trial.”). The moving party need not present evidence in a form admissible at
trial; “however, he may not merely rest on [the] pleadings.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. If the
evidence is “merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249–50 (citations omitted).
In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must “view the evidence presented
through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden,” to determine whether the nonmoving
party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving
party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer Commc’n, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir.
1988). The court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making credibility
determinations, because these decisions fall to the province of the jury. See Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 255; Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins. Co., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000); Graham v.
State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999).
Furthermore, all evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Graham, 193 F.3d at 1282. The nonmoving
party “need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every reasonable inference.”
Id. The evidence of the non-moving party “is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to
be drawn in [its] favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. After both parties have addressed the
motion for summary judgment, the court must grant the motion if no genuine issues of material
fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
In a motion for summary judgment, the court construes the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-movant, who is given the benefit of every reasonable inference. The court
states these facts in that light.
In 2004, Ms. Daugherty began working for MAPCO, an operator of retail fuel and
convenience stores. During the entire time she worked for MAPCO, and for some years before,
she resided in Lineville, Alabama. Before working for MAPCO, Ms. Daugherty worked for
MAPCO’s predecessor, Williamson Oil, starting in 1996. While at Williamson Oil, she held
several positions, including Store Manager and Supervisor. Ms. Daugherty eventually requested
to return to working as a Store Manager, alleging that she made the request because Mike Terrell,
Williamson Oil’s Loss Prevention Manager, “was riding [her] majorly, and it wasn’t worth the
stress levels.” Depo. Darlene Daugherty 40:2–40:6.
When Ms. Daugherty started at MAPCO in 2004, she worked as a Store Manager. In
2006, MAPCO promoted her to Regional Training Coordinator. She later worked briefly as a
representative for MAPCO’s Fleet Advantage credit card before moving into a position classified
as District Manager in Training (“DMIT”), her final position with MAPCO before she was
terminated. According to Mr. Terrell, who became Director of Loss Prevention when MAPCO
acquired Williamson Oil, the primary purpose of the DMIT position is to “to train . . . an
individual that’s been selected for promotion to district manager.” Depo. Mike Terrell 20:5–20:8.
Mr. Terrell explained that “generally . . . if it’s budgeted, they try to keep . . . someone there in
case [MAPCO] has a vacancy.” Ms. Daugherty emphasizes that while at Williamson, she worked
as a Supervisor, a position equivalent to MAPCO’s District Manager.
According to MAPCO’s organizational chart, District Managers are responsible for the
stores in their district and work under Division Managers. The Division Managers work under a
Director of Operations, and the Directors of Operations and Mr. Terrell report to the Executive
Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Lyn Gregory.
Ms. Daugherty states that around the time she became a DMIT, another District Manager
in Alabama, Diane Scott, had “a lawsuit with another employee, and they assumed that she
would not be working there much longer . . . .” Depo. Darlene Daugherty, 81:9–81:11. Thus, Ms.
Daugherty asserts that by moving her into the DMIT position, “they began the process of [Ms.
Daugherty’s] taking [Ms. Scott’s] position.”
Ms. Scott, however, did not leave MAPCO while Ms. Daugherty worked there. During
Ms. Daugherty’s time as a DMIT she did “whatever they needed [her] to do,” including resetting
stores,1 reviewing profit and loss statements, providing responsible vendor training on alcohol
sales, training store managers on checking in groceries, organizing division meetings, and
performing on-site evaluations when district managers were unable to perform the evaluations
themselves. See Depo. Darlene Daugherty 83:9–90:2. While Ms. Daugherty was a DMIT, a new
Division Manager, Gregory Tate, took over the Alabama Division. Ms. Daugherty claims that
Although the parties did not explain what it meant to “reset a store,” the court infers, from its review of the
depositions, that resetting a store involves changing the merchandise and marketing materials, either when MAPCO
acquires a new store or engages in a new promotion. See Depo. Mike Terrell 109:10–109:15 (“This particular
assignment, merchandising stores, stores fail or prosper based upon the way the merchandise is positioned so that it
will spur impulse buying, things of that nature.”).
when Mr. Tate took over the division, “he was grooming [her] to take over [Ms. Scott]’s
position.” Depo. Darlene Daugherty 85:11–85:12.
Mr. Tate’s termination, Mr. Terrell’s taking over as acting division manager, and Ms.
On March 19, 2009, MAPCO terminated Mr. Tate from his position as Division Manager
for the Alabama division, and Mr. Terrell, MAPCO’s Loss Prevention Specialist, took over as
acting Division Manager on a temporary basis at the request of Executive Vice President and
COO, Mr. Gregory. When Mr. Terrell took over, he was told that the company had decided to
change its organizational structure and have two Directors of Operations—a Director of
Operations East and Director of Operations West—instead of one Director of Operations
responsible for the entire chain of stores. As part of this restructuring, Mr. Terrell was told to
“cut as much overhead as [he] could from the budget, from the salaries, in order to fund the
salary for the [Director of Operations East].” Depo. Mike Terrell 18:21–19:1.
The same day that MAPCO terminated Mr. Tate, Mr. Terrell called a meeting that
included the District Managers, a [store] Manager in Training (“MIT”), Ms. Daugherty, and other
administrative employees. At the meeting, held at MAPCO’s Alabama Division office in Fort
Payne, Mr. Terrell announced Mr. Tate’s departure and asked each of the employees present to
explain their job duties. Mr. Terrell also told the employees present that he would have
individual meetings with the employees to discuss their positions and to get additional input.
Mr. Terrell’s individual meeting with Ms. Daugherty and his dicussion about her willingness to
When Mr. Terrell had his individual meeting with Ms. Daugherty, he asked her to
describe her duties in more detail. Mr. Terrell explained that his impression from his
conversation with Ms. Daugherty was that “she was doing . . . basically administrative sorts of
responsibilities” and “assisting Greg Tate in a variety of matters,” in addition to working on
updating or renewing beer licenses.
In evaluating Ms. Daugherty’s utility as a DMIT, Mr. Terrell also asked Ms. Daugherty
about her willingness to relocate if a District Manager positioned opened up, to which Ms.
Daugherty responded that she was not willing to relocate. Although the parties do not dispute
Ms. Daugherty’s answer, they do dispute how Mr. Terrell phrased this question. MAPCO,
relying on Mr. Terrell and Mr. Gregory’s depositions, asserts that Mr. Terrell had only asked Ms.
Daugherty if she were willing to move. Mr. Terrell explained that he asked that question because
he knew Ms. Daugherty lived in the “far south part of [MAPCO’s] geographic territory” and
because he wanted to know whether “she would be willing to take a promotion if it meant
moving somewhere else.” Depo. Mike Terrell 34:13–34:17. Ms. Daugherty’s termination letter,
dated March 26, 2009 and signed by Mr. Terrell, also supports MAPCO’s position; it states:
“During our meeting last week when I asked whether you would accept a promotion to District
Manager if an opening occurred, your response was that you would do so only if you did not have
to move.” Ex. D to Def. Br. S.J.
Ms. Daugherty, relying on her declaration and deposition, claims that Mr. Terrell did not
simply ask her if she would move, but that he specifically asked if she would move to Tennessee
if a District Manager positioned came open there. In deposition, Ms. Daugherty testified:
I asked him would my job be in jeopardy, and he asked me if I would move. And I
told him I would not move for a position, because so many people had been
terminated that had moved. And he said that he didn’t know if a position would be
coming open in Alabama. And he reiterated again would I move to Tennessee for a
position, and I told him no. Because I was still under the impression I would be
assuming Diane Scott’s responsibilities.
Depo. Darlene Daugherty, 116:17–117:4. See also 1st Decl. Daugherty ¶ 3 (Sept. 12, 2010) (“He
. . . asked me if I would move to Tennessee if a District Manager Position came open there. I told
him I would not move to Tennessee.”).
Mr. Terrell specifically denied asking Ms. Daugherty to move outside Alabama, because
“[a] person who’s hired for a position within the division is trained on the division budget,” and
he could not imagine a division manager would let that person leave and go work at a different
division. Depo. Mike Terrell, 46:6–46:11. Nevertheless, the court concludes that Ms. Daugherty
has raised a genuine dispute over how Mr. Terrell phrased his question regarding Ms.
Daugherty’s move. Taken in the light most favorable to Ms. Daugherty, the court must assume
Mr. Terrell asked her to move to Tennessee.
Ms. Daugherty’s termination, severance package, and release
Because Mr. Gregory instructed Mr. Terrell to cut the overhead budget in his division,
and because, according to Mr. Terrell, Ms. Daugherty indicated that she was not willing to move
to Tennessee, Mr. Terrell decided to terminate her. Mr. Terrell and Mr. Gregory both assessed
that Ms. Daugherty was not adding value in occupying the DMIT position because she was not
willing to move if necessary. Mr. Terrell also terminated another female employee, Jenia Miller,
as part of his budget cuts, although for different reasons than Ms. Daugherty. See Pl. Ex. 18 to
Depo. Mike Terrell (e-mail dated March 24, 2009 from Mr. Terrell to other MAPCO employees
explaining why he was deciding to terminate Ms. Daugherty and Ms. Miller, and stating that
“Jenia is a somewhat different story [from Ms. Daugherty]. She is carried as MIT but lives in
O’hatchee and obviously can’t run just any store. More importantly, everything I have been told
leads me to believe she just does not have the personality to function at a higher level.”).
On March 26, 2009, MAPCO officially terminated Ms. Daugherty. MAPCO sent a letter
to Ms. Daugherty; after receiving this first termination letter, Ms. Daugherty contacted Kathy
Roadarmel, Vice President of Human Resources, and requested that MAPCO make some
revisions to the termination letter and put it on company letterhead. The revised letter, which
incorporated Ms. Daugherty’s requests, was signed by Mr. Terrell and explained that “[t]he
driving factor” behind his decision was the need to “reduce a significant amount of salary dollars
from the division overhead budget in order to partially fund the salary of the newly created
Operations Director East position.” Ex. D to Def. Br. S.J. The letter further stated that Ms.
Daugherty’s unwillingness to move, combined with the small chance that a District Manager
position would open up near her, made her of limited utility to MAPCO.
As part of her termination, Ms. Daugherty received a proposed severance agreement and
signed a release. MAPCO initially offered Ms. Daugherty a three month severance package, but
after she spoke with Ms. Roardarmel, MAPCO raised the severance package to six months of
base pay, totaling $21,629.94. As part of Ms. Daugherty’s severance package, she signed an
agreement explaining that she was agreeing to discharge and release MAPCO from “all claims,
obligations, and demands that [she] had, have, or may have arising out of or relating to [her]
employment and/or the termination of [her] employment.” Ex. G to Def. Br. S.J. ¶ 3. The
agreement specifically mentioned Title VII claims as falling within the scope of the release. The
agreement also explained that Ms. Daugherty was agreeing to “waive and release any and all
claims . . . that [she] had, have, or may have, whether known or unknown, against [MAPCO] for
any liability . . . .” Ex. G to Def. Br. S.J. ¶ 4. The agreement stated that “[Ms. Daugherty] shall
have a period of up to twenty-one . . . calendar days in which to consider entering into [the]
agreement,” and that she “shall have a period of seven . . . calendar days within which to revoke
[her] acceptance of [the] agreement.” Ex. G to Def. Br. S.J. ¶ 8. The agreement also included a
choice-of-law provision, stating that it would be “governed by and construed in accordance with
the laws of the State of Tennessee.” Ex. G to Def. Br. S.J. ¶ 14. She executed the agreement on
March 31, 2009.
MAPCO hires C.J. McLaughlin as a DMIT in Alabama
Preliminary discussions leading to Mr. McLaughlin’s hiring
In March of 2009, before Mr. Terrell took over as acting Division Manager and before
MAPCO terminated Ms. Daugherty, MAPCO had been considering making some changes within
the Georgia and Chattanooga divisions that would have resulted in an opening for district
manager. Mr. Terrell discussed with C.J. McLaughlin, a former Loss Prevention Specialist at
MAPCO, about possibly returning to MAPCO to potentially fill a District Manager position. At
the time Mr. Terrell spoke with Mr. McLaughlin, Mr. McLaughlin was working for U-Haul in
Gadsen, Alabama. Mr. Terrell did not give Mr. McLaughlin any specific assurances that he
would receive a District Manager position if one became available; but in Mr. Terrell’s
conversations with Mr. McLaughlin, Mr. McLaughlin confirmed that he was willing to move
from his residence in Dutton, Alabama to wherever a District Manager position might become
available, even outside Alabama.
Mr. McLaughlin’s hiring in April, 2009
MAPCO asserts that it hired Mr. McLaughlin on April 6, 2009. Mr. McLaughlin testified
that he thought MAPCO hired him at the beginning of April, 2009, and Mr. Terrell had sent an e-
mail to another MAPCO employee on April 6, 2009, stating that “I have hired CJ McLaughlin as
DMIT in Alabama. He started today . . . .”
Ms. Daugherty, however, disputes that Mr. McLaughlin was hired in April, relying on a
Personnel Action Form MAPCO produced regarding Mr. McLaughlin’s rehiring. On that form,
Mr. McLaughlin’s effective date is typed as March 6, 2009, although somebody had scratched
out “March” and handwrote “April” above it. The date for Mr. Terrell’s signature is typed as
March 7, 2009, although Mr. Terrell’s signature and the date were not handwritten. At the bottom
of the Personnel Action Form is a stamp indicating the form was “Entered” on April 20, 2009.
The stamp does not indicate by whom or where the form was entered, although Mr. Terrell
speculated, when questioned about the stamp in deposition, that someone in the personnel
department received and entered the form on April 20th. Ms. Daugherty argues that, viewing this
evidence in the light most favorable to her, the form indicates that Mr. McLaughlin was hired on
March 6, 2009, before she was even terminated.
While on the surface Mr. McLaughlin’s hire date appears to be dispute of a material fact,
the court concludes that this date is not a genuine dispute. Mr. Terrell and Mr. McLaughlin both
testified that Mr. McLaughlin was hired after Ms. Daugherty was terminated. Mr. Terrell also
testified that the Personnel Action Form was a template he kept on his laptop that he would
change whenever he needed to effectuate a personnel decision, and that he probably overlooked
changing the date when he filled in the form for Mr. McLaughlin and that the dates were
The e-mails produced in discovery also refute the date on the Personnel Action Form. Mr.
Terrell sent Mr. Gregory an e-mail on March 10, 2009 at 10:50 P.M., explaining that he had
“called CJ McLaughlin [that] evening and he is absolutely ecstatic about the prospect of coming
back” and that he had cautioned him “that it is not done until it is done.” Pl. Ex. 17 to Depo.
Mike Terrell. Ms. Daugherty also did not cite any testimony from any deponent indicating that
Mr. McLaughlin started earlier than April, 2009. In light of the timing of the discussions between
Mr. Terrell and Mr. McLaughlin, their testimonies, the e-mails between Mr. Terrell and MAPCO
employees, and the lack of any evidence corroborating Ms. Daugherty’s dispute that Mr.
McLaughlin was hired before she was terminated, the court does not find a genuine dispute exists
as to Mr. McLaughlin’s actual hiring in April.
When MAPCO rehired Mr. McLaughlin, he was classified as a DMIT, although Mr.
McLaughlin testified that he personally was not aware he had been classified as a DMIT. He was
assigned to assist another MAPCO employee, Joey Harding, with merchandising. According to
Mr. McLaughlin, merchandising involved “actually reset[ting] the stores, ma[king] coordination
between vendors for displays, axillary [sic] end caps.” Depo. C.J. McLaughlin 38:19–38:21.
Assisting Mr. Harding was Mr. McLaughlin’s sole job duty for the first two months of his
employment. Accordingly, MAPCO asserts that Mr. McLaughlin “was classified as a DMIT for
payroll purposes, even though he did not perform DMIT duties.” Def. Br. S.J. at 7.
The record is unclear, however, as to what exact purpose Mr. McLaughlin was serving in
his work with Mr. Harding. Mr. McLaughlin stated that he understood he would be working for
Mr. Harding until the realignment of the Georgia and Chattanooga divisions, while Mr. Terrell
stated that the District Manager position coming out of the realignment never came to fruition,
for reasons he could not remember.
Ms. Daugherty, thus, disputes that Mr. McLaughlin did not perform DMIT duties, and the
court finds this dispute has some merit. Mr. Terrell’s deposition testimony indicates that the role
of a DMIT varied depending on the individual. See Depo. Mike Terrell 109:3–109:7 (“Well,
district manager training, that role would, would actually be tailored a little different with each
. . . individual based on their knowledge of the industry and their knowledge of MAPCO.”). Mr.
Terrell explained that one of the advantages of rehiring Mr. McLaughlin was that “he already
understood MAPCO’s reporting systems and the way [MAPCO] does business.” Depo. Mike
Terrell 109:8–109:10. Mr. Terrell speculated that part of the reason Mr. McLaughlin was
helping Mr. Hardy was so that Mr. McLaughlin could “get in sync with our . . . then current
merchandising plan.” And as Ms. Daugherty points out, she also had stated in deposition that one
of her job responsibilities was resetting stores.
Moreover, even if Mr. McLaughlin himself was not aware that he was hired as a DMIT,
the evidence establishes that Mr. Terrell intended for him to be in that position. In fact, Mr.
Terrell expressly indicated this intent in deposition:
Q: And, and do I infer correctly that you wanted to hire [Mr. McLaughlin] as
DMIT to sort of get some training to get back up to speed?
A: Yeah. He had been gone for two or three years, there had been obviously some
changes in that period of time, so common sense would indicate that I would need
to have a period there where he could refresh his skill set prior to actually taking
responsibility for the district she was vacating.
Depo. Mike Terrell 75:9–75:19. He also stated in deposition that Mr. McLaughin “was taking
[Ms. Daugherty]’s role. The position that [MAPCO] eliminated as part of the cost cutting was the
DMIT.” See Depo. Mike Terrell, 118:12–118:15. In an e-mail Mr. Terrell sent to Vice President
of Human Resources, Kathy Roadarmel, Mr. Terrell also stated that Mr. McLaughlin “occupies
the vacancy left by [Ms. Daugherty].” Pl. Ex. 16 to Depo. Mike Terrell at 2.
Accordingly, viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to Ms. Daugherty, the court
assumes, for the purpose of this opinion, that Mr. McLaughlin was not a DMIT solely for payroll
purposes, but in fact was hired to fill Ms. Daugherty’s DMIT position.
During the time period that Mr. McLaughlin was assisting Mr. Harding, Jenia Miller, the
other employee Mr. Terrell decided to terminate while acting Division Manager, saw Mr.
McLaughlin working at a MAPCO store. His return to MAPCO stores in Alabama, after she had
been fired, prompted her to contact Ms. Roadarmel, Vice President of Human Resources. Ms.
Miller also relayed what she saw to Ms. Daugherty and told her, in late April, that Mr.
McLaughlin had assumed Diane Scott’s District Manager position.
District Manager Diane Scott’s departure from MAPCO and Mr. McLaughlin’s
promotion to her position
Ms. Scott, however, did not resign from her District Manager position until June 2, 2009.
Ms. Scott decided to resign because the job had become very stressful and because close family
members were having serious medical problems at home. At the time of her resignation, Ms. Scott
was managing an area centered around Pell City, Alabama. Sometime before she resigned, Ms.
Scott had filed a lawsuit against MAPCO alleging gender and age discrimination, and violation of
the Equal Pay Act. Ms. Scott settled her case with MAPCO in April, 2009.
Shortly after Ms. Scott resigned, Mr. McLaughlin was called to Nasvhille to meet the
Alabama Division Manager, Rusty Hagenbuch, and the Director of Operations East, Don
Muscatell. They informed Mr. McLaughlin that Ms. Scott had resigned and that they were
assigning Mr. McLaughlin her District Manager position. Mr. McLaughlin testified that before his
conversation with Mr. Hagenbuch and Mr. Muscatell, he had never spoken with anybody about
taking over Ms. Scott’s position.
The timing of Ms. Scott’s resignation, of Mr. Terrell’s awareness of her resignation, and of
Mr. McLaughlin’s hiring is the core dispute in this case. Ms. Scott stated in deposition that she
did not start thinking about resigning until “somewhere around mid-May,” and that she did not tell
anybody at MAPCO about her plans to resign before June 2, 2009. See Depo. Diane Scott,
20:22–21:15. Thus, MAPCO asserts that Mr. Terrell could not have known about Ms. Scott’s
departure when he terminated Ms. Daugherty or before he hired Mr. McLaughlin.
Ms. Daugherty disputes that Mr. Terrell was unaware of Ms. Scott’s intent to resign before
June 2, 2009, based on Mr. Terrell’s deposition testimony. Mr. Terrell stated in deposition that
“[Ms. Scott] told me she was leaving and then I knew I had an opening, I had an issue to deal
with, so I hired [Mr. McLaughlin].” Depo. Mike Terrell, 99:12–99:15. Mr. Terrell also stated that
his discovery that Ms. Scott was leaving prompted him to hire Mr. McLaughlin. See Depo. Mike
Terrell, 7:21-71:23 (“I put [Mr. McLaughlin] in a DMIT position in Alabama because I found out
that [Ms. Scott] was leaving.”).
Notwithstanding the contradiction between Mr. Terrell’s deposition testimony and Ms.
Scott’s deposition testimony, Mr. Terrell made clear throughout his deposition that he was never
aware of Ms. Scott’s plans to leave the company before MAPCO terminated Ms. Daugherty. Ms.
Daugherty disputes these statements as well, stating in a Declaration she provided after the close
of discovery that “[s]ometime in November or December of 2008 or January of 2009, I was at a
marketing meeting attended by Mike Terrell, Greg Tate, and many others in MAPCO
management . . . . There, I heard Mike say to Greg that Diane Scott would not be around much
longer and that they would not have to worry about her.” 2d Decl. Daugherty ¶ 4 (Jan. 31, 2012).
Mr. Terrell also submitted an affidavit after the close of discovery on January 5, 2012,
where he states that “[u]pon review of the events, it is evident that some of my testimony was
mistaken as it related to the chronology of events.” Specifically, Mr. Terrell states that he was
mistaken when he testified that he hired Mr. McLaughlin to replace Diane Scott, and that he was
mistaken to the extent he testified he was aware of Ms. Scott’s resignation before June 2, 2009.
MOTION TO STRIKE
Ms. Daugherty moves to strike Mr. Terrell’s affidavit, arguing that “it completely
contradicts his prior deposition testimony” and that “what [Mr. Terrell] is saying is that other
MAPCO witnesses gave later testimony that is different from his, and which coincidentally is
better for MAPCO, so he must have been mistaken.” Pl. Mot. Strike Aff. Mike Terrell at 1. The
court first notes that it did not rely upon Mr. Terrell’s affidavit in concluding that MAPCO did not
fraudulently induce Ms. Daugherty to sign the release. The court will nevertheless address the
motion to further develop the evidence in this case, particularly in the areas most hotly disputed
by the parties.
Standard of Review
The Eleventh Circuit has held that “a party cannot give ‘clear answers to unambiguous
questions’ in deposition and thereafter raise an issue of material fact in a contradictory affidavit
that fails to explain the contradiction.” Rollins v. TechSouth, 833 F.2d 1525, 1530 (11th Cir.
1987). When a party does so, “the court may disregard the affidavit as a sham.” Rollins, 833 F.2d
at 1530. The Eleventh Circuit clarified that courts are to “apply this rule sparingly because of the
harsh effect this rule may have on a party’s case,” because allowing “every failure of memory or
variation in a witness’ testimony to be regarded as a sham would require far too much from lay
witnesses and would deprive the [jury] the traditional opportunity to determine which point in
time and with which words the affiant was stating the truth.” Rollins, 833 F.2d at 1530 (emphasis
added). To disregard an affidavit, the court must find “some inherent inconsistency” between the
deposition testimony and the affidavit. Rollins, 833 F.32d at 1530.
The court has carefully reviewed the deposition testimony and concludes that inherent
inconsistencies exist between the deposition testimony and the affidavit. Mr. Terrell’s deposition
testimony is inconsistent with his affidavit on two points: (1) that he did not hire Mr. McLaughlin
to replace Diane Scott; and (2) that he was not aware of Diane Scott’s resignation before he hired
Although Mr. McLaughlin maintained throughout his entire deposition that he was
expecting to move up to a District Manager position in the Georgia or Chattanooga divisions
before he was finally assigned to Ms. Scott’s district in Alabama, Mr. Terrell stated a different
reason for hiring Mr. McLaughlin:
Q: Okay. But then you say that [the District Manager position in Georgia or
Chattanooga] didn’t come to fruition; is that right?
A: That’s correct.
Q: Why is that?
A: I don’t remember.
Q: Was it because of the Muscatell deal?
A: I just don’t remember the circumstances.
Q: Okay. But then [Mr. McLaughlin] was ultimately rehired; is that correct?
A: That is correct.
Q: Okay. And in what position was he rehired in?
A: I put him in a DMIT position in Alabama because I found out Diane [Scott]
Q: Okay. So then she told you that she was going to be leaving and then you try to
talk her out of it; is that correct?
Q: Okay. So when she told you that she was leaving, you had the idea, hey, this is
a job [Mr. McLaughlin] could have; is that right?
A: Well, when she told me that she was leaving, I was facing a dilemma. I had
nobody to fill that slot and I needed to find somebody in a hurry that could.
Q: Why did you hire [Mr. McLaughlin] as DMIT if he was going into Diane’s slot
as [D]istrict [M]anager?
A: Because I had the good fortune to get him hired before Diane vacated the
position and Lyn authorized the refunding of the DMIT slot.
Depo. Mike Terrell, 70:18–71:2, 71:16–71:23, 72:12–72:15, 73:6–73:12, 74:10–74:16.
Given how clearly Mr. Terrell stated that he rehired Mr. McLaughlin to replace Ms. Scott,
Mr. Terrell’s affidavit seems inherently inconsistent with his deposition testimony; however, the
court notes two facts that suggest that Mr. Terrell’s deposition testimony truly was a result of his
First, in his deposition, Mr. Terrell never states when Ms. Scott told him of her intention to
resign. In fact, he states he did not remember the exact chronology of events. See Depo. Mike
Terrell 128:21–23 (“You know, I don’t know at this point in time chronologically exactly when
Diane told me that [she was planning on resigning].”). Based on Mr. Terrell’s deposition alone,
the court can only ascertain that Ms. Scott would have told him she was resigning after Ms.
Daugherty was terminated, but before he hired Mr. McLaughlin. This window of time is difficult
to believe though, because MAPCO terminated Ms. Daugherty on March 26, 2009 and hired Mr.
McLaughlin on April 6, 2009. According to Mr. Terrell’s deposition testimony, Ms. Scott must
have told Mr. Terrell of her intent to resign within those eleven days, and Mr. Terrell must have
hired Mr. McLaughlin during that same time period. As MAPCO points out, that brief time
window is clearly inconsistent with Ms. Scott’s deposition testimony as to when she decided to
Q: Okay. So you started thinking about [resigning] somewhere around mid-May?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Did you ever have any conversation with Mike Terrell about your resignation.
Q: If, if [Mr. Terrell] said that you had told him back in April that you were
resigning, would that be incorrect?
A: I don’t remember telling anybody. I didn’t even know myself. How can I tell
somebody if I’m not even, I never even thought about quitting until just
everything got snowballed there. Things were happening at home.
Depo. Diane Scott, 20:22–21:1, 21:16–21:18, 22:3–22:11.
Second, Ms. Daugherty’s counsel, when deposing Mr. Terrell, pointed out inconsistencies
with Mr. Terrell’s own testimony and e-mails he had sent to other MAPCO employees. One such
e-mail was sent from Mr. Terrell to Ms. Roardarmel, a Vice President of Human Resources,
regarding another former MAPCO employee, Jenia Miller. Ms. Miller was the other employee
Mr. Terrell terminated to reduce overhead while he was acting Division Manager. After MAPCO
terminated Ms. Miller, she saw Mr. McLaughlin working at one of MAPCO’s stores. Ms. Miller
contacted Ms. Roardarmel, a human resources executive, and asked how Mr. McLaughlin could
be working as a DMIT when Ms. Miller’s position was eliminated. Ms. Roardarmel e-mailed Mr.
Terrell, asking him if he could give her “any back story on this situation” because she wanted “to
be sensitive to anything that might be perceived as gender discrimination.” Pl. Ex. 16 to Depo.
Mike Terrell at 3. In his response, sent on April 20, 2012, Mr. Terrell explained, among other
As to [Ms. Miller]’s position being eliminated, I told her why I was doing so. I
met privately with each member of the team on the first day that I was acting
[Division Manager]. . . . [Ms. Miller] informed me that Greg Tate had told her
that he was hiring her to replace Diane Scott and that “the company” intended to
fire Diane as soon as her lawsuit was over.
Because I realize that you and the other members of the management team would
know that action would be illegal, I did not see any point in leading Jenia to think
she would be replacing Diane.
With regard to gender discrimination, based on the lineup in Alabama, I would be
more concerned about a successful claim being lodged by a male, rather than by a
female. At present we have seven DM’s. Four are female. Prior to the position
changes, there were 6 females and 3 males. [Mr. McLaughlin] was not hired
because he is male. He was put in place because he has experience and is willing
to move to accept a promotion.
Pl. Ex. 16 to Depo. Mike Terrell at 2. As Ms. Daugherty’s counsel noted, Mr. Terrell did not
explain in that e-mail that Ms. Scott was resigning and that her resignation had nothing to do with
a lawsuit, nor did he reference the vacancy of Ms. Scott’s position when he discussed hiring Mr.
McLaughlin. See Depo. Mike Terrell 117:21–118:1 (questioning, in regards to Mr. Terrell’s
statement about his response to Jenia Miller, “[w]hy didn’t you put something in there that [Ms.
Scott] told you she was resigning and it had nothing to do with the settlement of her lawsuit?”);
120:21–22 (questioning, in regards to reasons to Mr. McLaughlin’s hiring, “[w]hy did you not
reference the vacancy of [Ms. Scott]’s position there?”).
Although Mr. Terrell responded that he did not see a reason why he needed to explain that
Ms. Scott was resigning to Ms. Roardarmel, the court questions whether Mr. Terrell truly was
confused about the chronology of events when he gave his deposition. This confusion is
consistent with his affidavit, where he states that he was “clearly mistaken in his recollection.”
The court is mindful that on a motion for summary judgment, it must refrain from
weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations. It further notes that the
inconsistencies noted—e.g. the differences between Mr. Terrell’s deposition, and the e-mails that
Mr. Terrell sent and Ms. Scott’s contrary testimony—do not negate the genuine issues of fact
raised by Mr. Terrell’s deposition testimony. And the court agrees with Ms. Daugherty that Mr.
Terrell’s affidavit appears to “represent a complete about-face” from his deposition testimony on
some of the important issues in this case.
The court, however, also notes that the one case Ms. Daugherty cited where a court struck
a “sham” affidavit involved a plaintiff-party attempting to create a genuine issue of material fact
by submitting an affidavit contradictory to deposition testimony. See Van T. Junkins & Assocs. v.
U.S. Indus., Inc., 736 F.2d 656, 658 (“When a party has given clear answers to unambiguous
questions which negate the existence of any genuine issue of material fact, that party cannot
thereafter create such an issue with an affidavit that merely contradicts, without explanation,
previously given clear testimony.”) (emphasis added).
In this case, MAPCO does not offer Mr. Terrell’s affidavit to create a genuine issue of
material fact in its presentation of the facts—which would defeat its motion for summary
judgment—and cites to the affidavit only once when addressing the merits of Ms. Daugherty’s
Title VII claim. Moreover, because MAPCO does not need to only raise a genuine issue of
material fact to survive summary judgment, but instead bears the heavier burden of showing that
no such issues exist, Mr. Terrell’s affidavit was of limited applicability because the court
considered all evidentiary materials submitted—including Mr. Terrell’s entire deposition
testimony—when determining whether to grant summary judgment. While a plaintiff who submits
an affidavit directly contradicting deposition testimony may raise a genuine issue of material fact
and survive summary judgment, a defendant that does the same risks creating genuine issues of
material fact that will cause it to lose on its motion for summary judgment. In this case, Mr.
Terrell’s affidavit neither creates genuine issues of material fact nor negates them, but explains the
confusion witnesses frequently have with time sequences.
Accordingly, the court DENIES Ms. Daugherty’s motion to strike Mr. Terrell’s affidavit.
In doing so, the court emphasizes that it did not need to consider Mr. Terrell’s affidavit to
determine that MAPCO is entitled to summary judgment. As the court will explain below, it
grants Ms. Daugherty’s motion for summary judgment based on the release she signed as part of
her severance package, which the court concludes was signed knowingly and voluntarily and was
not fraudulently procured. In doing so, the court does not reach the merits of Ms. Daugherty’s
As part of Ms. Daugherty’s severance package, she signed an agreement explaining that
she was agreeing to discharge and release MAPCO from claims arising out of her employment
with MAPCO, whether known or unknown at the time Ms. Daugherty signed the release. The
release specifically included claims under Title VII, but specifically exempted any claims that may
arise after she signed the document. The agreement gave Ms. Daugherty twenty-one days in which
to consider entering into the agreement, including an acknowledgment that she had the
opportunity to read the agreement and seek legal advice. Under the agreement, she had seven days
to revoke the agreement after the date she signed it. The agreement also included a choice-of-law
provision, stating that it would be “governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the
State of Tennessee.” Ex. G to Def. Br. S.J. ¶ 14.
Before addressing Ms. Daugherty’s argument that the release is invalid, the court will first
address the parties’ disagreement over what law applies to Ms. Daugherty’s challenge to the
validity of the release.
Law governing the release
The release states that it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws
of the State of Tennessee and without regard to any rule of construction under which any
agreement may be construed against the drafter or any rule regarding conflicts of law.” Ex. G to
Def. Br. S.J. Moreover, as a general rule, federal law governs the validity of Title VII waivers.
See Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1481 (6th Cir. 1990). Thus, MAPCO argues
that because the contract has a Tennessee choice-of-law provision, Sixth Circuit law applies to the
release. Ms. Daugherty disagrees, stating that the cases MAPCO cited, which explain that federal
law controls the release of Title VII claims, have “no choice-of-laws aspect to them and thus
provide no reason not to apply the law of the forum.” Pl. Opp. Br. at 13. The court concludes that
Eleventh Circuit law should apply when determining whether the release should be invalidated for
fraudulent inducement, but for a different reason than that advanced by Ms. Daugherty.
Neither party cited a case explaining how choice-of-law provisions in releases of Title VII
claims are applied to attacks on the validity of those releases ab initio. To find an answer to this
question, the court turned to the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (1971). Under the
Restatement, “[a] choice-of-law provision, like any other contractual provision, will not be given
effect if the consent of one of the parties to its inclusion in the contract was obtained by improper
means, such as by misrepresentation, duress, or undue influence, or by mistake.” Restatement
(Second) of Conflict of Laws, § 187, cmt. b. Thus, “[w]hether such consent was in fact obtained by
improper means or by mistake will be determined by the forum in accordance with its own legal
principles.” Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, § 187, cmt. b.
The court agrees with the rationale behind the Restatement—specifically, that choice-of-
law clauses should not apply if the contract itself was not validly executed. If a party to a contract
was fraudulently induced to sign it, such that the terms of the contract should not be enforceable,
then logically the choice-of-law provision, which is a term of that contract, is no longer capable of
enforcement either. Other courts have interpreted this section of the Restatement similarly. See
Del Bosque v. AT&T Advertising, L.P., 441 Fed. Appx. 258, 260 (5th Cir. 2011) (“The presence
of a choice-of-law provision in the settlement agreement itself logically cannot control our
resolution of [the enforceability of the agreement], inasmuch as the issue to be resolved is the
validity of that very agreement . . . .”) (citing Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, § 187
cmt. b); Aces Transp., Inc., v. Ryan Transp. Servs, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98963, at *14 (D.
Kan. May 24, 2006) (“[T]he merits of [the plaintiff]’s rescission claim, which is a challenge to the
validity of the agreement itself, must be resolved before the court can determine whether . . .
choice-of-law provision in the agreement is enforceable.”); It’s Just Lunch Intl., LLC, v. Polar
Bear Inc., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30506, at *6 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 27, 2004) (“[Section] 187 provides
that conflict of law principles should not be used to give effect to a choice of law provision where
the validity of the agreement containing the provision has been challenged. . . . Thus, if a court is
faced with a challenge to a contract’s validity, before the court can apply a choice of law provision
it must determine whether the agreement containing the clause is invalid under [the law of the
Even if the court were to enforce the choice-of-law provision, the outcome would not
change, because both Eleventh Circuit and Sixth Circuit law apply substantially similar standards
in addressing the validity of waivers of Title VII claims, as discussed below. Alabama and
Tennessee state laws are also similar regarding a claim of fraudulent inducement. Compare
Brushwitz v. Ezell, 757 So. 2d 423, 429 (Ala. 2000) (“The elements of fraud are: (1) a
misrepresentation of a material fact, (2) made willfully to deceive, recklessly, without knowledge,
or mistakenly, (3) that was reasonably relied on by the plaintiff under the circumstances, and (4)
that caused damage as a proximate consequence.”) with Dobbs v. Guenther, 846 S.W.2d 270, 274
(Tenn. Ct. App. 1992) (“Actions for fraud contain four elements: (1) an intentional
misrepresentation of a material fact, (2) knowledge of the representation's falsity, and (3) an injury
caused by reasonable reliance on the representation. The fourth element requires that the
misrepresentation involve a past or existing fact or, in the case of promissory fraud, that it involve
a promise of future action with no present intent to perform.”).
Ms. Daugherty’s claim is covered by the release, if the release is valid
The severance agreement expressly exempts any claims that arise after the agreement is
executed. Ms. Daugherty argues that her claim arose after her termination, when MAPCO hired
Mr. McLaughlin to replace her. Before determining the validity of the release, the court must
address this threshold issue, because if Ms. Daugherty’s claim is exempted from the scope of the
release, any discussion on the validity of the release is moot.
Title VII states that “[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to
discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s sex . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).
Under this statute, the unlawful employment practice is the discriminatory discharge. The
replacement by a member outside the protected class is only circumstantial evidence of
discrimination, but is not itself the discriminatory act. As the Supreme Court has explained, “[the]
proper focus is upon the time of the discriminatory acts, not upon the time at which the
consequences of the acts became most painful.” Del. St. College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 258
(1980) (alterations and emphases in original) (quoting Abramson v. U. of Haw., 594 F.2d 202, 209
(1979)); Jones v. Dillard’s, Inc., 331 F.3d 1259, 1263 (11th Cir. 2003); see Brunet v. City of
Columbus, 1 F.3d 390, 402 (11th Cir. 1993) (“[T]he cause of action accrues upon the happening
of the discriminatory act, even if the effects of the discriminatory act are not felt until a later
time.”) (citing Del. St. College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. at 248).
Most cases that discuss when a Title VII or ADEA cause of action accrues do so in the
context of when the statute of limitations begins to run. For example, the Eleventh Circuit in
Jones v. Dillard confirmed that the statute of limitations begins to run when the discriminatory act
occurs, but explained the statute of limitations could be equitably tolled “to close the loophole
used by the malicious employer to avoid age discrimination liability.” Jones, 331 F.3d at 1264
(citing Reeb v. Econ. Opportunity Atlanta, Inc., 516 F.2d 924, 930 (5th Cir. 1975)). But the very
reason why Jones and other similar cases apply equitable tolling is to mitigate against the harsh
and inequitable effects that would sometimes occur if courts rigidly adhered to starting the statute
of limitations on the date when the claim actually arose. In this case, the equitable concerns cited
by the Eleventh Circuit are not present. MAPCO is not arguing that Ms. Daugherty’s claim is
foreclosed by a statute of limitations to which she is passively subjected, but by a release that she
knowingly and voluntarily executed.
The parties have acknowledged the scarcity of cases discussing when a claim arises for
purposes of determining whether it falls within the scope of a release, and most of the cases cited
by the parties address whether the statute of limitation could be equitably tolled. Only Ms.
Daugherty cited cases, all from the Seventh Circuit, discussing when a claim arises for purposes
of a release. In particular, she relies on language from a case stating that “a general release is valid
as to all claims of which a signing party has actual knowledge or that he could have discovered
upon reasonable inquiry.” Fair v. Intl. Flavors & Fragrances, 905 F.2d 1114, 1116 (7th Cir.
But the Seventh Circuit noted in a later case, in which it cited Fair, that “[i]n release cases,
the question is not when was the date of accrual [as in statute of limitations cases], but rather
whether the plaintiff is knowingly giving up the right to sue on some claims, or all claims that are
in general terms predictable.” Wagner v. Nutrasweet Co., 95 F.3d 527, 533 (7th Cir. 1996). Thus,
the Seventh Circuit held that “[w]hen a release is broadly worded, as this one was, to cover all
claims, ‘known and unknown,’ the plaintiff is giving up the right to sue that she might otherwise
have on claims related to her employment that could arise under any law. The waiver is valid if it
is knowing and voluntary . . . .” Wagner, 95 F.3d at 533. The Seventh Circuit found unavailing the
plaintiff’s argument that the release did not cover claims that she could not have known about at
the time she signed the release—specifically, that her male successor received much higher
bonuses for comparable work—and affirmed summary judgment for the defendant based on the
release. Wagner, 95 F.3d at 533.
The court agrees with the decision in Wagner that the question is not when the claim
accrues under the release, but whether the release is valid. If Ms. Daugherty can successfully
challenge the validity of the release, she could maintain her claim. If she cannot invalidate the
release, her claim is foreclosed because the discriminatory act occurred before she signed the
severance agreement—when she was terminated, whether she knew or did not know that she had
Validity of the release under Eleventh Circuit and Alabama law
Ms. Daugherty executed the release knowingly and voluntarily
In both the Eleventh and Sixth Circuits, an employee is bound by an agreement releasing
an employer from Title VII liability when she does so knowingly and voluntarily. Puentes v. UPS,
86 F.3d 196, 198 (11th Cir. 1996); Adams v. Philip Morris, 67 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 1995).
Because the release at issue in this case constitutes a waiver of a remedial right, it must be closely
scrutinized. Freeman v. Motor Convoy, Inc., 700 F.2d 1339, 1352 (11th Cir. 1983). In
determining whether a waiver is knowingly and voluntarily executed, the Eleventh Circuit looks
to the totality of the circumstances, guided by the following factors: (1) the plaintiff’s education
and business experience; (2) the amount of time the plaintiff considered the agreement before
signing it; (3) the clarity of the agreement; (4) the plaintiff’s opportunity to consult with an
attorney; (5) the employer’s encouragement or discouragement of consultation with an attorney;
and (6) the consideration given in exchange for the waiver when compared with the benefits to
which the employee was already entitled. Puentes, 86 F.3d at 198.
Although the Sixth Circuit states that it applies “ordinary contract principles in
determining whether a Title VII waiver is valid,” it also applies a multi-factor test to determine
whether the release has been knowingly and voluntarily executed. See Adams, 67 F.3d at 583 (“In
evaluating whether a release has been knowingly and voluntarily executed, we look to (1)
plaintiff's experience, background, and education; (2) the amount of time the plaintiff had to
consider whether to sign the waiver, including whether the employee had an opportunity to
consult with a lawyer; (3) the clarity of the waiver; (4) consideration for the waiver; as well as (5)
the totality of the circumstances.”). Because no meaningful difference exists between the Eleventh
Circuit and the Sixth Circuit on the standard applied to challenging the validity of Title VII
claims, no true conflict exists, and the court will apply Eleventh Circuit law in its analysis.
The court concludes that the knowing and voluntary factors from Puentes favor MAPCO’s
argument that Ms. Daugherty knowingly and voluntarily executed the release and waiver of her
Title VII claims. First, Ms. Daugherty had thirteen years of experience working for Williamson
Oil and then MAPCO, during which time she held multiple managerial positions. In addition to
her work for MAPCO, she had also obtained a two year degree from a community college, a
license as a real estate agent, and certifications in real estate appraisal and health information
technology. Thus, the court concludes that she had sufficient education and business experience to
understand the release.
Second, the agreement gave Ms. Daugherty twenty-one days to consider signing the
agreement, with a seven day revocation period. Ms Daugherty has not offered any evidence to
show that she was pressured into hastily executing the agreement. See Puentes, 86 F.3d at 199
(finding that giving employees only twenty-four hours to decide whether they would sign releases
and accept severance packages was a factor raising a genuine issue of material fact about whether
the plaintiffs knowingly and voluntarily executed their releases). In fact, Ms. Daugherty testified
that she took the severance agreement home and talked it over with her husband before she
decided to sign the agreement.
Third, the agreement was sufficiently clear, and specifically explained that Ms. Daugherty
was releasing her Title VII claims, whether known or unknown, against MAPCO. Fourth, Ms.
Daugherty offers no evidence that MAPCO did not give her ample time to consult with an
attorney. Ms. Daugherty also testified in deposition that she understood she had the right to
discuss the document with a lawyer and voluntarily decided not to do so. Fifth, although MAPCO
did not expressly encourage Ms. Daugherty to consult with an attorney, the agreement included an
acknowledgment that she had the opportunity to read and review the agreement and to seek legal
Sixth, Ms. Daugherty negotiated a more generous severance package than she was
originally offered. MAPCO initially offered her only three months severance, but later raised the
severance package to six months of her base salary after Ms. Daugherty spoke with Ms.
Roardarmel, Vice President of Human Resources. Ms. Daugherty’s total severance pay was
$21,629.94. Although the increase in severance pay was not given expressly as consideration for
the waiver and release, the record is unclear as to whether MAPCO even had to offer the three
month severance package. See Pl. Ex. 18 to Depo. Mike Terrell (e-mail dated March 24, 2009
from Mr. Terrell to other MAPCO employees, stating that “Kathy Roadarmel wants to pay [Ms.
Daugherty and Ms. Miller] 3 months severance. Although I would not be that generous, her point
is valid in that we should be uniform throughout the company and fortunately, I am proud to say, I
was able to influence them to get away from the McLarty 2 week package in favor a [sic] standard
3 month package”). The fact that MAPCO doubled Ms. Daugherty’s package—giving her over
$10,000 more than she would have otherwise received—favors a finding that she knowingly and
voluntarily executed her waiver and release and that she received consideration for the waiver.
Fraudulent inducement may be raised as a defense to releases of Title VII waivers
Ms. Daugherty, in responding to MAPCO’s motion for summary judgment, did not argue
that any of these factors indicated that her waiver and release was not knowing and voluntary.
Instead, she dismissed MAPCO’s argument that her release was executed knowingly and
voluntarily as “all besides the point,” stating that because none of the cases MAPCO cited
discussed fraudulent inducement, “they are all irrelevant.” Pl. Opp. Br. at 13. Ms. Daugherty
argues that the relevant analysis to undertake is whether she was fraudulently induced to sign the
release. Under that analysis, Ms. Daugherty argues that she has presented substantial evidence
from which a reasonable fact-finder could conclude MAPCO fraudulently induced Ms. Daugherty
into executing the release.
MAPCO responds that the only inquiry for this court is whether Ms. Daugherty knowingly
and voluntarily executed the waiver and release, implying that the “knowing and voluntary”
standard inherently addresses fraud, duress, or coercion. According to MAPCO, “a ‘fraud’
contention may only undo the executed waiver if it was made within the four corners of the
document itself.” Def. Br. S.J. at 17.
Both parties raise valid points, and neither the Eleventh Circuit nor the Sixth Circuit have
foreclosed challenges to Title VII waivers under a theory of fraudulent inducement, although
neither Circuit has allowed a plaintiff to raise such a defense. The Eleventh Circuit, however, has
allowed plaintiffs to raise fraudulent inducement as a waiver to ADEA rights, a conclusion it
reached by interpreting the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”). See Griffin v.
Kraft Gen. Foods, Inc., 62 F.3d 368 , 373–74 (11th Cir. 1995) (“nonstatutory circumstances, such
as fraud, duress, or coercion in connection with the execution of the waiver, may render an ADEA
waiver not ‘knowing and voluntary.’”). As one commentator has noted, the purpose of the
OWBPA was to prevent “unfair and abusive” waiver practices, including, specifically, “waiver[s]
of ADEA rights by older workers without any information necessary to assess whether their
terminations were based on age.” Richard J. Lussier, Title II of the Older Workers Benefit
Protection Act: A License for Age Discrimination? The Problem Identified and Proposed
Solutions, 35 Harv. J. on Legis. 189, 193–94 (1998) (citing Sen. Rpt. 101-79 at 9–12 (1989)).
Given the kinship between the ADEA and Title VII and the remedial nature of both statutes, one
could conclude that the logic that employees should be making fully informed decisions would
also apply to Title VII waivers, notwithstanding the lack of an equivalent to the OWBPA for Title
VII waivers. See McKelvy v. Metal Container Corp., 854 F.2d 448, 451 n. 5 (11th Cir. 1988)
(explaining that the logic of Title VII cases was equally applicable in the ADEA context “because
of the near identity of the statutes”).
MAPCO, however, also raises a valid point when it argues that even if Ms. Daugherty did
not realize until after she executed the severance agreement that MAPCO’s reason for her
termination was untruthful, “that is the risk she took with the bargain she struck.” Def. Br. S.J. at
19. Moreover, Title VII cases, which require proof of actual knowledge and real intent, see Silvera
v. Orange Cty. Sch. Bd., 244 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir. 2001), are often impossible to defend at
the pleading stage. Because an employer may be required to spend substantial resources defending
a case through summary judgment, even where the employer had an iron-clad legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for firing an employee, the employer has a justifiable interest in
avoiding lawsuits in exchange for substantial consideration, like the six-month severance package
paid in this case. Just as the employee takes a risk with signing a release in exchange for a
generous severance package by waiving unknown claims, so does the employer take a risk by
paying the employee more than it had to when the employee might never have sued absent the
release. Thus, the court appreciates MAPCO’s argument that an analysis of the validity of a
contract should center on whether it was knowing and voluntary, and not on whether Ms.
Daugherty must be provided “‘perfect knowledge’ of all facts and circumstances” relating to her
Whether Ms. Daugherty may raise fraudulent inducement as a challenge to the validity of
the release and waiver, when that waiver is knowing and voluntary under the Puentes factors, is
academic under these facts, however. Even if the court considers her fraudulent inducement
challenge to the validity of the release, Ms. Daugherty has failed to provide sufficient evidence for
a reasonable jury to conclude that MAPCO fraudulently induced her to sign the release and
Ms. Daugherty does not provide sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to find fraudulent
When a plaintiff challenges a release of discrimination claims, arguing fraudulent
inducement, the court applies state law. See Raybon, 160 Fed. Appx. 926, 928 (11th Cir. 2005)
(applying Alabama law to a claim that a plaintiff was fraudulently induced to sign a release of his
ADEA claims). Under Alabama law, “[t]he elements of fraud are: (1) a misrepresentation of a
material fact, (2) made willfully to deceive, recklessly, without knowledge, or mistakenly, (3) that
was reasonably relied on by the plaintiff under the circumstances, and (4) that caused damage as a
proximate consequence.” Raybon, 160 Fed. Appx. at 927 (quoting Brushwitz, 757 So. 2d at 429).
“A ‘material fact’ is a fact that would reasonably induce someone to act,” Fraser v. Reynolds, 588
So. 2d 442, 446 (11th Cir. 1990), and “the false representation must concern a material existing
fact.” Tallant v. Grain Mart, 432 So. 2d 1251, 1254 (Ala. 1983) (emphasis added).
In arguing fraudulent inducement, Ms. Daugherty claims that she executed the severance
agreement in reliance on misrepresentations Mr. Terrell allegedly made in the letter, which she
claims was the only source of information she received as to why she was being terminated. Mr.
Terrell told Ms. Daugherty that her position was being eliminated for two reasons: first, because
he was directed to reduce “a significant amount of salary dollars from the division overhead
budget” to partially fund the new Director of Operations East position; and second, because Ms.
Daugherty was not willing to move, and that “[i]n light of that restriction, especially in view of the
fact that there is very little chance of a DM position opening up in or near [Ms. Daugherty’s] area
of residence,” she was of limited utility to MAPCO. Ex. D to Def. Br. S.J.
Ms. Daugherty asserts that these reasons were not true. She contends that Mr. Terrell had
already hired Mr. McLaughlin as DMIT to be ready to take over Ms. Scott’s district; that Mr.
Terrell had only asked her to move to Tennessee; that MAPCO keeps repeating a “‘she won’t
move’ mantra” when it has no official policy requiring DMITs to be willing to move; and that Ms.
Daugherty did not need to move because Mr. Terrell knew Ms. Scott was leaving before he fired
Ms. Daugherty. Pl. Opp. Br. at 18.
The evidence does not support Ms. Daugherty’s contentions. First, as to her contention
that Mr. Terrell hired Mr. McLaughlin before MAPCO terminated Ms. Daugherty—based on
MAPCO’s Personnel Action Form that has Mr. McLaughlin’s hire date typed as March 6, 2009—
the court does not view the form as creating a genuine dispute that he was rehired before Ms.
Daugherty was terminated. Ms. Daugherty argues that viewed in the light most favorable to her,
the court must assume Mr. McLaughlin was rehired before Ms. Daugherty was terminated. Ms.
Daugherty, however, “need not be given the benefit of every inference but only of every
reasonable inference.” Graham, 193 F.3d at 1282 (emphasis added). Because she offers no
evidence to corroborate that Mr. McLaughlin was hired before April, and because the e-mails
between MAPCO employees produced during discovery and the deposition testimony produced in
this case all indicate Mr. McLaughlin was hired in April, no genuine dispute exists that Mr.
McLaughlin was hired after Mr. Daugherty was terminated. Mr. McLaughlin’s hiring, thus, does
not make any statement in Ms. Daugherty’s termination letter a misrepresentation.
The court also concludes that Ms. Daugherty’s contention that Mr. Terrell asked her if she
would move to Tennessee does not make the letter a misrepresentation, much less a willful
misrepresentation. The termination letter clearly states that Ms. Daugherty indicated she would
accept a promotion to District Manager “only if [she] did not have to move.” Ex. D to Def. Br.
S.J. The letter does not further qualify this sentence with a geographical limitation. Moreover,
when Ms. Daugherty received the termination letter, and before she signed the severance
agreement, she asked Ms. Roardarmel to make some changes to the letter. See Depo. Darlene
Daugherty 122:17–123:18; Pl. Ex. 3 to Depo. Mike Terrell. Even if Mr. Terrell asked Ms.
Daugherty if she would move to Tennessee when he met with her individually, he was not so
specific in his termination letter, and she did not ask to have that specificity included when she
suggested revisions to the letter. Because Ms. Daugherty argues that “[t]he letter was the only
source of information [Ms.] Daugherty received as to why she was being terminated,” Pl. Opp. Br.
at 18, the court must examine whether the letter contains the material misrepresentation that Ms.
Daugherty claims she reasonably relied upon, and not what Mr. Terrell may have said in his
individual meeting with Ms. Daugherty. The fact that MAPCO acquiesced to her suggested
modifications of that letter belies her reliance on its unqualified language regarding her
willingness to move.
Ms. Daugherty also quarrels with MAPCO using her unwillingness to move as a reason for
her termination, asserting that MAPCO had no policy requiring DMITs to be willing to move. But
none of the elements of fraud require that MAPCO had to have followed an official policy in
explaining its reason for terminating her. Indeed, Title VII cases do not even require reasons for
adverse employment actions to be pursuant to official policy; the reason only needs to be
legitimate and nondiscriminatory. See Damon v. Fleming Supermarkets of Fla., Inc., 196 F.3d
1354, 1361 (11th Cir. 1999) (“We have repeatedly and emphatically held that a defendant may
terminate an employee for a good or bad reason without violating federal law . . . . [O]ur sole
concern is whether unlawful discriminatory animus motivates a challenged employment
decision.”) (internal quotations omitted). Here, MAPCO had a legitimate and nondiscriminatory
reason for terminating Ms. Daugherty, because if a District Manager positioned opened far from
her residence, even in Alabama, and she were unwilling to move to take the position, the funds
used to train her would have been wasted. All deponents questioned about whether MAPCO had
such a policy, besides Ms. Daugherty, acknowledged that DMITs should be willing to move to
accept a promotion, even if MAPCO had no official policy on that issue. See Depo. Mike Terrell
34:18–35:11 Depo. Diane Scott, 26:15–26:23; Depo. Lyn Gregory 12. And even if her
unwillingness to move, whether to Tennessee or elsewhere, was not a legitimate reason for
terminating her, she has not shown that MAPCO made a misrepresentation to her by stating this
reason in the termination letter. MAPCO could have told her that it was firing her because it
needed to reduce overhead and she rooted for the wrong football team, and as long as that reason
were true, it would not be a misrepresentation of a material fact.
Finally, the court addresses Ms. Daugherty’s final and most crucial assertion: that her
unwillingness to move was not a reason for her termination because Mr. Terrell knew Ms. Scott
was leaving before he terminated Ms. Daugherty. If the evidence, viewed in the light most
favorable to Ms. Daugherty, showed that Mr. Terrell had this knowledge, it would at least raise a
jury question as to whether he willfully made a misrepresentation of a material fact. The evidence
Ms. Daugherty has presented, however, is insufficient to allow a reasonable fact-finder to
conclude that Mr. Terrell knew Ms. Scott was resigning before Ms. Daugherty was terminated.
Nowhere in Mr. Terrell’s deposition does he state that he knew or suspected that Ms. Scott would
leave before he fired Ms. Daugherty. See Depo. Mike Terrell 73:9–73:15 (answering that he did
not know about Ms. Scott’s resignation until after Ms. Daugherty left); 75:23–76:4 (“Q: So before
[Ms. Daugherty] left the company, you were never made aware of Diane’s plans to leave? A: I did
not know she was going to leave, no.”). In fact, although Mr. Terrell’s testimony is inconsistent
and confused in other respects, his testimony is consistent on this point and accords with Ms.
Scott’s testimony in that both testified that Ms. Scott did not indicate she would resign until after
Ms. Daugherty was terminated. See Depo. Diane Scott 20:14–22:11. If Mr. Terrell did not know
that Ms. Scott was resigning before he fired Ms. Daugherty, he did not make a misrepresentation
of an existing material fact, as required to allege fraud. See Tallant, 432 So. 2d at 1254.
The only evidence Ms. Daugherty has offered to prove that Mr. Terrell was making a
misrepresentation of a material fact when he stated that “there is very little chance of a DM
position opening up in or near your area of residence” is that Mr. Tate was “grooming [her] to
take over [Ms. Scott’s] position,” Depo. Darlene Daugherty 85:11–12, and that in November or
December of 2008 or January of 2009, she was at a dinner where she heard Mr. Terrell say to Mr.
Tate that “Diane Scott would not be around much longer and that they would not have to worry
about her.” 2d Decl. Darlene Daugherty ¶ 4. Even assuming that these statements raised a genuine
dispute of fact as to whether Mr. Terrell suspected that Ms. Scott might leave because of her
lawsuit in late 2008 or January 2009, they do not rise to the level of making Mr. Terrell’s
statement in the termination letter in late March, 2009 a willful misrepresentation of a material
fact. Cf. Pl. Ex 18 to Depo. Mike Terrell at 2 (e-mail dated March 24, 2009 from Mr. Terrell to
other MAPCO employees stating that he was “shocked” at Ms. Miller’s statement Mr. Tate had
told her that MAPCO intended to fire Ms. Scott for filing a lawsuit, and explaining that
“[e]veryone in a decision making capacity at the corporate office would know Diane is protected
from termination for that reason”).
Moreover, Ms. Daugherty places herself in a “Catch-22” situation by offering evidence
that Mr. Terrell suspected that Ms. Scott would be leaving because that evidence implies that Ms.
Daugherty also had knowledge of Ms. Scott’s potential impending departure. The only evidence
that could prove that Mr. Terrell would willfully misrepresent the material fact that a District
Manager position had little chance of opening near Ms. Daugherty was information that was
common knowledge to both Ms. Daugherty and Mr. Terrell. In other words, if Ms. Daugherty
knew that employees at MAPCO believed that Ms. Scott would either be fired or leave because of
her lawsuit, and if she knew that Mr. Terrell had told Mr. Tate that Ms. Scott would not be around
much longer, Ms. Daugherty’s reliance on the termination letter in signing her severance
agreement would be unreasonable. See Raybon, 160 Fed. Appx. at 928 (“explaining that “even if
[the Court] were to assume that a misrepresentation occurred, the plaintiff’s reliance on it was not
reasonable,” because at the time he signed his separation agreement, he had sufficient notice that
his job had not been eliminated). By requesting revisions to the letter, Ms. Daugherty
demonstrated that she read the letter critically, and that she had the opportunity to contest the
statements made within the letter, including the statement about the low likelihood of a District
Manager position opening near her. Thus, if the evidence she offers to prove that Mr. Terrell made
a willful misrepresentation would be sufficient to create a genuine dispute of a material fact, then
that evidence would also be sufficient to show that her reliance on that representation was
Accordingly, the court concludes that Ms. Daugherty has failed to establish a genuine
issue of a fact material to her claim that MAPCO fraudulently induced her to sign the severance
agreement. Because the court determines that she knowingly and voluntarily executed the
agreement under the totality of the circumstances, including the circumstances she raised outside
the Puentes factors, the court concludes that the release is enforceable against her and precludes
her Title VII claim, regardless of what its merits may be.
MAPCO’s request for the attorneys’ fees provided for in the release
In its conclusion to its summary judgment brief, MAPCO requests an award of costs and
attorneys’ fees, citing a provision in the severance agreement that provides that “[t]he prevailing
party in any litigation brought to enforce the terms of this agreement shall be entitled to recover,
in addition to any and all other remedies available to it, its reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs
incurred in the litigation.” Ex. G Def. Br. S.J. ¶ 14.
The court recognizes the hardship to employers by allowing a case to proceed through
discovery when an employee has signed a release in exchange for valuable consideration. But
given the remedial nature of the Title VII statutes, and the close scrutiny given to waivers of these
remedial rights, the court concludes that enforcing the attorneys’ fee provision in this case would
be akin to requiring an employee challenging such waivers to tender back the consideration she
receives for that waiver—a requirement that the Eleventh Circuit has found incongruous with the
general policy of the ADEA. See Forbus v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 958 F.2d 1036,1041 (11th Cir.
1992) (finding that the tender back doctrine should not apply to ADEA claims because it is a
“remedial statute designed to protect employees.”) The court finds, similarly, that the attorneys’
fees provision in the release would be incongruous with the policy of Title VII, also a remedial
statute designed to protect employees. Although the court has found, at the close of discovery, that
Ms. Daugherty has no basis for her claim of fraudulent inducement, the court notes she had no
way of knowing whether MAPCO misrepresented its reasons for terminating her until she
initiated this lawsuit.
For the reasons stated above, the court GRANTS Defendant MAPCO’s motion for
summary judgment and ENTERS JUDGMENT in MAPCO’s favor and against Plaintiff Darlene
Daugherty as to her sole Title VII claim. The court further DENIES MAPCO’s request for
attorneys’ fees as requested in its brief in support of its motion for summary judgment. The court,
however, will tax costs against the plaintiff. The court will simultaneously enter an order to this
DONE and ORDERED this 19th day of June, 2012.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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