Employment Discrimination Claims Barred by Release; Duress Argument Rejected

In Ames v. New York City Dept. of Educ., No. 151743/2021, 2022 WL 705673 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Mar. 09, 2022), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s employment discrimination complaint under CPLR 3211(a)(5), since it was barred by a release plaintiff entered into.

From the decision:

This action is barred by the releases in the Stipulations, in which plaintiff agreed not to initiate legal proceedings or administrative hearings of any kind against the DOE and to release and discharge the DOE and any present or former officials or employees “from any and all liability, claims, or rights of actions, whether known or that were or could have been asserted against the Released Parties from the beginning of time until the execution of this Agreement relating to or arising out of her employment with the Department” (See NYSCEF Doc. Nos. 15 [First Stipulation at ¶1] and 16 [Second Stipulation at ¶1]). Where, as here, “the language of the release is clear, effect must be given to the intent of the parties as indicated by the language employed” and the release will “be set aside … only for duress, illegality, fraud, or mutual mistake” (Cramer v Newburgh Molded Products, Inc., 228 AD2d 541, 541 [2d Dept 1996] [internal citations omitted]; see also Devlin v 645 First Ave. Manhattan Co., 233 AD2d 183, 183 [1st Dept 1996]).

Plaintiff contends that the releases in the Stipulations are invalid because she entered into the Stipulations under duress. Specifically, plaintiff maintains that she “was not advised that [she] could speak to an attorney about the Stipulation [and] …was told point blank that if [she] wanted to stay on the DOE payroll [she] had no choice, but to sign the Stipulation” and executed both Stipulations because she “had to remain on the DOE payroll, not only for the salary, which [she] relied upon to support myself and my daughter and fulfill my Court-ordered obligations, but also for the health insurance and pension benefits that [she] had already taken loans against” (NYSCEF Doc. No. 1 [Complaint at ¶¶89-90, 92]).

The court rejected plaintiff’s reliance on a federal decision setting forth a 6-factor analysis to determine duress, and noted further that “the Stipulations have been ratified by plaintiff through her subsequent course of conduct.”

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