BONNIE JOY R. SEMANDEL, Complainant
BRIGGS & STRATTON CORP, Respondent
An administrative law judge (ALJ) for the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development issued a decision in this matter. A timely petition for review was filed.
The commission has considered the petition and the positions of the parties, and it has reviewed the evidence submitted to the ALJ. Based on its review, the commission agrees with the decision of the ALJ, and it adopts the findings and conclusion in that decision as its own.
The decision of the administrative law judge (copy attached) is affirmed.
Dated and mailed February 24, 2005
semanbo . rsd : 125 : 9
James T. Flynn, Chairman
/s/ David B. Falstad, Commissioner
/s/ Robert Glaser, Commissioner
Bonnie Semandel petitions for a review of the ALJ's decision, which dismissed her complaint of alleged sex and age discrimination against the respondent on the grounds that she had knowingly and voluntarily signed a release and waiver agreement that released the respondent "from all damages, actions, lawsuits or claims, whether based on a contract, tort, statute, retaliation, or common law Semandel may have based upon her employment with Briggs & Stratton . . . and/or the conclusion of that employment."
Semandel asserts that the respondent could give her "her health insurance" because of her years of service and her work record. However, health insurance was not a benefit provided under the terms of the release and waiver agreement, and paragraph 11 of the agreement expressly states that the agreement sets forth the entire agreement between the parties.
Semandel also asserts that one of the things she has always done is "respect, listen to and trust the people over her." Perhaps Semandel is referencing her allegation that she was told she was being terminated because her job was going to be combined with other jobs, but months later she came to believe that her job had remained essentially the same. However, as determined by the ALJ, there was no showing that she was induced to sign the agreement through any fraud. First, Semandel was aware of facts sufficient to lead her to suspect age discrimination at the time of her termination, and the release did not hide the fact that the respondent was seeking to protect itself from any possible age discrimination claims. Second, the respondent was not obtaining Semandel's termination in exchange for the benefits it was giving her under the agreement; the termination was something the employer, in the absence of any contractual right to a term of employment, had the power to carry out regardless of the agreement. What the respondent was obtaining was the release of claims in exchange for the benefits it was giving to Semandel, and there was no fraud in connection with that exchange.
Semandel also asserts that she did question why she was training Lisa and why Lisa was not being transferred to Purchasing and her (Semandel) staying as the Production Control Scheduler/Planner. Semandel asserts that "they" said to her, "Bonnie you will love MED and that's the decision the higher up made." However, these assertions by Semandel are likewise not evidence that she was induced to sign the agreement through any fraud, for the same reasons stated in the previous paragraph.
In addition, Semandel asserts that she did call the respondent's attorney several times and stated that she didn't understand; that she did everything she was asked to do and the respondent still released her. She asserts that she also called the head of Human Resources. Semandel asserts that both individuals told her that if she didn't sign the release she would be fired and receive nothing. However, in the absence of a contractual right to specified terms of employment, the termination of Semandel's employment was something that the respondent could have carried out regardless of the release agreement. Furthermore, Semandel not only had the opportunity to consult with an attorney of her own choosing, she was given 45 days to consider the release agreement, and following execution of the agreement she was given 7 days to revoke her acceptance of the agreement.
The totality of the circumstances support the ALJ's determination that Semandel made a voluntary and knowing waiver of her right to pursue an employment discrimination complaint against the respondent under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.
cc: Attorney Clifford B. Buelow
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