Order Denying Motion to Dismiss ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) Class Action Claims did not Warrant Interlocutory Appeal Minnesota Federal Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against their employer, Seagate, alleging age discrimination in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Peterson v. Seagate U.S. LLC, 534 F.Supp.2d 996, 2008 WL 398968, *1 (D.Minn. 2008). The putative class action also sought “declaratory relief relating to the enforceability of a purported release and waiver that was signed by many of the plaintiffs upon the termination of their employment with Seagate.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action as to “the claims of those named plaintiffs that signed a release and waiver”; the district court denied the motion, as well as a subsequent motion for reconsideration. Id. Defense attorneys requested that the district court certify the issue for interlocutory appeal, id. The district court denied the motion.
Defense attorneys sought certification on two grounds: “1) whether nineteen plaintiffs who failed to file an EEOC charge properly exhausted their administrative remedies with respect to their age discrimination claims; and 2) whether the SIRP Release that plaintiff Paul Calcagno signed in connection with Defendants’ 2004 voluntary early retirement program is valid and enforceable.” Peterson, at *1. The district court noted that such certification is only appropriate if the order “involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” Id. (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b)). The court concluded that this test was not satisfied.
First, defense attorneys argued that 19 plaintiffs had signed releases and failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. Peterson, at *1. The defense “concede[d] that plaintiffs in a collective action may piggyback on charges filed by other class members, as long as the claims asserted are within the scope of the underlying administrative charge,” but argued that “the administrative charges upon which the above-referenced plaintiffs seek to piggyback do not mention a release agreement,” id. Contrary to the defense claim that this presents an “issue of first impression” and that “there are substantial grounds to conclude that the Eighth Circuit will find that the claims of the nineteen plaintiffs who signed releases fall outside the scope of the administrative charges filed by plaintiffs Peterson and Olson,” the district court found that the Eighth Circuit consistently has held “that all plaintiffs need not file a separate administrative charge, as long as the charge filed ‘allege[s] class-wide age discrimination or claim to represent a class in order to serve as the basis for an ADEA class action under section 216(b).’” Id., at *2 (citations omitted). The federal court thus concluded that Seagate was “simply challenging this Court’s application of settled law on the particular facts of this case,” which “is not a basis for interlocutory appeal.” Id. (citation omitted).
With respect to “the validity and enforceability of the SIRP Release signed by plaintiff Paul Calcagno,” the district court noted that it had denied the defense motion to dismiss this portion of the class action because “The Complaint contains sufficient allegations that the releases at issue are not valid under OWPBA and that plaintiffs signed the releases under duress.” Peterson, at *2. Because this matter was attacked by motion to dismiss, the factual and legal arguments raised by the defense as to the validity of the releases were unpersuasive: “the Court is concerned only with the sufficiency of the allegations, and the Court determined that like the other plaintiffs that signed releases, plaintiff Calcagno sufficiently alleged he signed the SIRP release under duress.” Id. Again, the district court held that no grounds for interlocutory appeal did not exist, id., at *2-*3.
Finally, the defense argued that the district court erred in “finding that prohibitions against filing an EEOC charge render a release invalid.” Peterson, at *4. In essence, defense attorneys argued that the court erred in following EEOC v. Lockheed Martin, 444 F.Supp.2d 414 (D.Md. 2006), because “Lockheed in fact supports its position that inclusion of such a prohibition does not necessarily render the entire release invalid.” Id. The federal court found that this, too, did not warrant interlocutory review, id. Accordingly, it denied the motion to certify it order for interlocutory appeal, id.