I signed a severance agreement. Can I still sue for discrimination?
As a self-thought diligent employer, you were made to sign a severance agreement in your workplace. The agreement clearly states that you have surrendered your claims under a number of laws (federal and state) that you do not even know about at all. As a pat on your back for this, your employer gives you your salary for few week and probably some other benefits.
However, you think you have been a victim of discrimination and you badly want to bury your ex-employer under a huge law suit for this. However, you keep asking yourself, “Does the severance agreement I have signed totally relinquish my rights to sue for illegal discrimination?” You have your answer!
What is a severance agreement?
A severance agreement is a contract between an employer and employee which details the rights and responsibilities of both parties in the event of a job termination. It identifies any severance package of pay (in monetary terms) and other perks. It also specifies the conditions under which same will be either provided or withheld.
The effect of a severance agreement is that it typically offers the employee some additional compensation in exchange for waiving any potential employment discrimination claims under any federal and state law.
Signing Your Agreements right.
Like every agreement you want to sign in your work place, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney before signing a severance agreement.
There is an added importance to do if you already suspect that you have suffered discrimination in the hands of your employer because you cannot just get out of a severance agreement you entered into voluntarily and with full knowledge.
An attorney will help you understand the length and breadth of such agreement and will make known to you all the attendant consequences of appending your signature to such.
Exceptions to the waiver in a severance Agreement
Severance agreements exists because under federal and state laws, workers have the right to sue their employers for many types of legal violations. But, a severance agreement creates a waiver for this right.
Nonetheless, even if you have signed a severance agreement, you can still find loopholes which makes such agreement invalid (wholly or in part). Hence giving you your full right to sue. This is more because some legal claims are more difficult than others. These exceptions include;
- If the Agreement does not comply with the form required in the statutes: Some statutes requires employers to have certain provisions included in their severance agreements. If not the, claims will not be deemed waived and the employee can still sue.
An example is the 1990 older workers’ Benefit Protection Act which deals with Age Discrimination claims for some class of employees. Some of these requirements include; clarity of the agreement, reasonable period to consider signing (21 or 45 days as the circumstance dictates), the allowance of 7 days to revoke their signature and consent to such waiver etc.
- If you were coerced into signing the Agreement: The agreement will also be rendered invalid if you were made to sign under duress or in the face of a threat. Hence, no claims will be deemed waived and you can sue for discrimination even after you have signed.
The Severance agreement is supposed to take away your rights to any future claim especially that of discrimination. However, in the instance provided above, you can still express your right to the claims even after signing such agreement.
P.S:It is important that you keep an experienced employment law or discrimination attorney in the know as events unfold.