Wednesday Federal Employment Law Update- The OWBPA

Hello all, and welcome to your Wednesday Federal Employment Law Update! 

There weren’t any crackup search engine terms used yesterday, but we must always have a winner.  Today’s is simply “aces,” which someone used to eventually find my poker blog entry about playing pocket aces.  God only knows how many pages of hits he needed to flip through on Google to find my blog with that search!

Today we look at a case interpreting the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, or the “OWBPA.”  The OWBPA was enacted in 1990 and amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to impose specific requirements for releases covering ADEA claims.  Basically, employees over 40 must get extra time to consider releases waiving ADEA claims, even some time after they sign the release to withdraw their agreement, and all provisions containing waivers of ADEA claims must be conspicuous and understandable.

Does anyone else see anything backwards about this?  We have the ADEA and a bunch of other statutes establishing equality in the workplace, but then a part of the ADEA which essentially says, “ya know these older folks are prone to getting confused and signing stuff they don’t understand, we better put in an extra buffer to protect them!”  I mean, are we all equal or aren’t we? 

Ok enough of my rant!  In Ridinger v. Dow Jones & Co., 2011 WL 2675921 (2nd Cir. July 11, 2011), the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment from the New York District Court on Plaintiff’s claim of age discrimination.  Defendant had terminated Plaintiff’s employment as part of a reduction in force (legalese for “layoff”), entering into a Separation Agreement with the Plaintiff which included severance pay, but also a release of all claims up to the point of Plaintiff’s termination, including those for discrimination under the ADEA.  The ADEA language was placed in bold to make it clear for the employee.

Despite signing it and accepting all the benefits of the severance package, Plaintiff sued for discrimination anyway, arguing that the release was invalid because it was too vague in violation of the OWBPA.  Comparing the language to those found in other cases, the District Court and Second Circuit both agreed that the release language complied with the OWBPA.

For those sympathetic to the employee, keep in mind that he did not have to sign the Separation Agreement.  Or he could have signed it and changed his mind during the revocation period. 



 THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Explore posts in the same categories: Federal Employment Law Updates

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