JULIANO v. UNIVEST CORPORATION OF PENNSYLVANIA
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE HARVEY BARTLE, III ON 6/26/14. 6/26/14 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
UNIVEST CORPORATION OF
June 26, 2014
Plaintiff Pat Juliano, a 66-year old woman, has sued
her former employer for age and gender discrimination under the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621,
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42
U.S.C. 2000e, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"),
43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 451.
Plaintiff was a Help Desk
Specialist at Univest Corporation of Pennsylvania ("Univest")
before she was terminated on January 15, 2013.
The defendant has moved for summary judgment under Rule
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Summary judgment is
appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.
U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
A dispute is genuine only if there is a
sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could
find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material
only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing
Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir.
In reviewing the evidence, facts and inferences must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 587 (1986).
The gravamen of defendant's motion is a release
of rights signed by the plaintiff on January 23, 2013.
counters that the release is not enforceable.
The following facts are undisputed.
As noted above,
Juliano was employed by Univest as a Help Desk Specialist.
January 15, 2013, Juliano was called to a meeting with Theresa
Schwartzer ("Schwartzer"), Univest's Human Resources Director,
and Eric Conner, Univest's Chief Technology Officer.
told that she was being laid off as part of a company
reorganization and was provided with a proposed release of
The release states, in relevant parts:
This is an important legal document. Please
do not sign it until you have thoroughly
reviewed it and understand its terms and
effect and unless you do so voluntarily...
You have forty-five days from your Separation
Date... to consider the terms of this
Agreement... In addition, should you choose
to sign this Agreement, you are entitled to
revoke your acceptance at any time within
seven (7) days after signing it... Lastly,
you have the right to consult with an
attorney before signing this Agreement.
Your employment with the Company will
conclude at the close of business on
January 15, 2013...
You will receive Separation Pay of eight
weeks payable in a lump sum minus applicable
tax withholding within 15 days following
receipt of this signed agreement and provided
there is no revocation. The total gross
amount of Separation Pay will be $7002.00.
In consideration of the promises of
Univest as set forth in this Agreement, and
with the intent to be bound legally, you
agree to irrevocably RELEASE AND FOREVER
DISCHARGE Univest Corporation... from and
with respect to any manner of actions, suits,
debts, claims, demands whatsoever in law or
equity arising out of or in any way relating
to your employment with Univest... including,
but not limited to... any and all Claims
arising under the laws of any federal, state,
or local jurisdiction, including, but not
limited to, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1991... the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the
Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act... Nothing
in this paragraph shall be read as waiver of
any vested rights in any savings or pension
plan, for unemployment compensation benefits,
for benefits under COBRA or for enforcement
of this agreement.
You acknowledge that no promise, other
than the promises in this Agreement, have
been made to you and that in signing this
Agreement you are not relying upon any
statement or representation made by or on
behalf of the Releasees and each or any of
them concerning... the Agreement or
concerning any other thing or matter.
You acknowledge that you have been
informed of your right to consult with legal
counsel and have been encouraged to do so.
You acknowledge that you have been given
a period of forty-five (45) days, starting on
your Separation Date... to consider the terms
of this Agreement.
(emphasis in original).
Juliano understood that if she did not
sign the release, she would not receive severance pay.
was also given Schwartzer's business card before she left the
Following the January 15 meeting, Juliano discussed the
release with her financial advisor, Patricia Nelson, among
Knowing that she would qualify for Medicare upon turning
65 in March, Juliano did not make any inquiries concerning
medical coverage continuation.
Juliano told her financial
advisor that she expected to receive unemployment compensation
and discussed how she would manage her finances when her income
consisted solely of severance pay and unemployment compensation.
Juliano subsequently called Schwartzer to inquire about
the form of the severance payment.
would be paid in a lump sum.
Schwartzer told Juliano it
Juliano also contacted Julie
Sheehan, a Univest Human Resources representative, regarding
On January 18, 2013, Juliano applied for unemployment
Univest did not contest her application.
Juliano's unemployment benefits totaled $16,556.
On January 23, 2013, Juliano returned the signed
release to Univest by handing it to the receptionist in Univest's
Human Resources department.
read it in its entirety.
Before signing the release, Juliano
On January 31, 2013, Univest issued
Juliano a net wage payment in the amount of $4,373.33 which was
deposited into her personal bank account.
Juliano filed a charge against Univest with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 3, 2013
alleging gender and age discrimination.
The EEOC issued a
Dismissal and Notice of Rights on July 25, 2013.
In its motion for summary judgment Univest argues that
it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's
discrimination claims because she waived those claims when she
signed a release after being terminated.
Plaintiff counters the
release is invalid because she signed it under duress.
may waive employment discrimination claims against their
employers as long as the release is made knowingly and
To determine whether a release is valid, we use a
totality of the circumstances test.
To aid in their analysis,
courts may consider the following factors:
(1) the clarity and specificity of the
release language; (2) the plaintiff's
education and business experience; (3) the
amount of time plaintiff had for deliberation
about the release before signing it; (4)
whether plaintiff knew or should have known
his rights upon execution of the release; (5)
whether plaintiff was encouraged to seek, or
in fact received the benefit of counsel; (6)
whether there was an opportunity for
negotiation of the terms of the Agreement;
and (7) whether the consideration given in
exchange for the waiver and accepted by the
employee exceeds the benefits to which the
employee was already entitled by contract or
law. [Courts] may also consider whether there
is evidence of fraud or undue influence, or
whether enforcement of the agreement would be
against the public interest.
Cuchara v. Gai-Tronics Corp., 129 F. App'x 728, 731 (3d Cir.
2005) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
consider each factor in turn.
First, the release language contained in the Agreement
is clear and specific.
It states that plaintiff is waiving her
rights under a number of statutes and laws, including the ADEA,
Title VII, and the PHRA.
It provides for a lump-sum severance
payment which plaintiff received within a week of signing the
The release also provides that plaintiff had 45 days to
consider the release before signing it and the right to cancel it
at any time within seven days after signing it.
further acknowledges that Juliano had been advised to consult
with an attorney or legal advisor.
Second, plaintiff is college-educated and has held
various technical support and customer service positions.
has worked for large corporations such as Comcast and Motorola in
addition to Univest.
There is no indication in the record that
Juliano is not an educated individual.
Regarding the third factor, the release specifically
states that plaintiff had 45 days to consider the agreement
before signing it.
While plaintiff argues that Schwartzer did
not tell her at the January 15, 2013 meeting that she had 45 days
to consider the release, plaintiff admits she read the release
before signing it.
Moreover, plaintiff concedes that she waited
eight days after receipt of the release to sign it and that she
consulted with her financial advisor before doing so.
We find that the fourth factor also weighs in favor of
the release's validity.
Juliano admits she knew she was
releasing claims when she signed the release in exchange for
The language of the release as to the specific
claims waived by plaintiff is clear and unambiguous.
The fifth factor is likewise satisfied.
states on the first page in bold typeface, "you have the right to
consult with an attorney before signing this Agreement."
fact that Juliano did not consult with an attorney, but rather a
financial advisor, does not compel us to rule in Juliano's favor.
In Watsak v. Lehigh Valley Health Network, 342 F.3d 281 (2003),
our Court of Appeals held that it was not dispositive that a
plaintiff did not consult with counsel before signing a release
for the release to be valid.
Id. at 294-95.
The sixth factor also supports the validity of the
Juliano acknowledges she was given Schwartzer's
business card when she was terminated.
contacted Schwartzer to discuss the release as well as a human
resources representative at Univest to discuss benefits.
has pointed to no evidence in the record indicating that she was
prevented from attempting to negotiate the terms of the
severance, although she apparently did not do so.
Juliano also received adequate consideration for her
release of rights.
Juliano concedes that she received eight
weeks' pay in a lump sum from Univest after she signed the
Moreover, the release clearly states that Univest would
not contest Juliano's application for unemployment benefits.
Thus, we find that the seventh factor is satisfied.
Ultimately we must decide whether, based upon the
totality of the circumstances drawn from the record, Juliano's
release was knowing and voluntary.
While Juliano admits that she
read the release and consulted with a financial advisor before
signing it, she argues that she was under duress and thus that
the release should be invalidated.
Juliano contends that she was
under duress because she was concerned about meeting her
healthcare needs as she has diabetes and is insulin dependent.
Juliano's claim that she was under duress when she signed the
release does not invalidate it as a matter of law.
Pennsylvania law, absent a threat of actual bodily harm, there
can be no claim of duress 'where the contracting party is free to
consult with counsel.'"
Tubbs v. Merck & Co., No. 13-5992, 2014
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82815 (E.D. Pa. Jun. 18, 2014) (citing Cuchara,
129 F. App'x at 731).
Moreover, in Wastak, our Court of Appeals
recognized that "the law is clear that the existence of financial
pressure to sign a waiver is insufficient to establish that it
was executed involuntarily."
342 F.3d at 294-95.
Juliano also maintains that she felt pressured into
signing the release because she understood that if she did not
sign it, she would not receive unemployment compensation.
deposition, plaintiff testified that Ms. Schwartzer "gave [her]
the impression that [she] would not get unemployment if [she] did
not sign [the release]."
Plaintiff did not state when deposed
that Ms. Schwartzer made any verbal representations to her
regarding unemployment benefits.
In a subsequent affidavit dated
April 17, 2014, plaintiff stated that after the January 15, 2013
termination meeting she "understood that in order to receive
Unemployment Compensation and the benefits as stated by
Schwartzer (eight weeks of pay, paid over the applicable pay
periods and with the month of February paid for my health
benefits), [she] needed to sign the release right away."
assuming that this is not a sham affidavit, plaintiff does not
say that Schwartzer told her she would not receive unemployment
benefits if she did not sign the release.
See Jiminez v. All Am.
Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007).
Schwartzer did represent to Juliano that she would not be
eligible for unemployment benefits if she did not sign the
release, plaintiff did not rely on such a representation.
own deposition testimony establishes that she not only expressed
to her financial advisor that she expected to receive
unemployment benefits but also that she applied for those
benefits several days before signing the release.
On the record before us, there is no genuine dispute of
any material fact concerning the release's validity.
discrimination claims are thus barred.
motion for summary judgment will be granted.
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