Employee’s age discrimination suit settled

By: Steve Lash Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer, The Daily Record, November 21, 2010

The million-dollar lawsuit of a fired newspaper general manager against her former employer shaped up to be a battle between the worker's age discrimination claim and a company's severance agreement that contained a promise not to sue.

But Ruth R. "Jeannie" Green and Post Newsweek Media Inc. settled their suit and countersuit in late September, before they got to trial in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Green's attorney, Linda Hitt Thatcher, declined to comment on the case. Fred S. Sommer, Post Newsweek's lawyer, could not be reached for comment.

Green, who sued for $1.6 million, had worked for 18 years at the Post Newsweek-owned Calvert Recorder, where she drew regular praise from her bosses for successfully soliciting and obtaining advertising for the newspaper, according to her complaint.

But in early 2006, Green's 17th year at the paper, her supervisor, Karen Acton, began "persistently" asking her if she was going to retire soon. Similar comments - including the advice that "people should go out at the top of their game"- were repeated by Acton "again and again" during the year and a half before Green's firing on Aug. 17, 2007, at age 64, the complaint stated.

Green sued the company in Calvert County Circuit Court for $300,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages, alleging her termination violated federal and state laws barring age bias against employees over age 40. She sued for an additional $1 million, divided between compensatory and punitive damages, claiming Acton and Donna Johnson, the company's vice president of human resources, coerced her into signing the severance agreement.

Post Newsweek, which denied the alleged bias and coercion, removed the case to U.S. District Court based on the alleged violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The company, in its countersuit, said the terms of the "Separation Agreement and Release" required Green to waive all claims against the company in exchange for six months' severance pay: $26,346.96.

Green breached that agreement by filing the lawsuit, the company said. Post Newsweek sought return of the severance pay, plus attorneys' fees and costs.

Green, in fighting the countersuit, claimed the waiver of her right to sue was invalid because she signed the document under duress. Though the agreement allowed her 21 days to consider it and consult an attorney, Green felt compelled to sign it after Acton and Johnson told her that her final paycheck would be withheld if she refused, her complaint stated.

"Ms. Acton and Ms. Johnson desired to induce Ruth "Jeannie" Green to sign the release without consulting with an attorney because they knew that their decision to terminate Ruth "Jeannie" Green was based upon her age and that if she consulted with counsel, she would be advised that she may have a claim against defendant for wrongful termination," Hatcher wrote in Green's complaint. "They intended for Ruth "Jeannie" Green to rely upon their representation."

Post Newsweek responded that all Green's claims, including the alleged misrepresentation by Acton and Johnson, "arise out [of her] employment with Post Newsweek and the termination thereof" and are restrained by the severance accord.

"All of the causes of action contained in plaintiff's complaint were encompassed by the agreement and were waived and released by plaintiff," Sommer wrote in the company's countersuit. "By filing her complaint, plaintiff has materially breached the agreement."

Thatcher is with Thatcher Law Firm LLC in Greenbelt. Sommer is with Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker PA in Potomac.

GREEN V. POST NEWSWEEK MEDIA INC.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Greenbelt

Judge:

Peter J. Messitte

Case No.:

810-cv-00542-PJM

Outcome:

Confidential settlement

Dates:

Suit filed: Aug. 3, 2009 (in Calvert County Circuit Court)

Settlement: Sept. 30, 2010

Plaintiff's/Counter Defendant's Attorney:

Linda Hitt Thatcher of Thatcher Law Firm LLC in Greenbelt.

Defendant's/Counter Plaintiff's Attorney:

Fred S. Sommer of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker PA in Potomac.

Counts:

Age discrimination, intentional misrepresentation, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract.