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Larkins v. Regional Elite Airline Services LLC

Larkins v. Regional Elite Airline Services LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60729 (Apr. 13, 2013)
Issue: Whether the executed release of all claims by a black employee when he believed his position had been eliminated is enforceable after he learns he was replaced by a white male 20 years younger than him.

Summary: Henry Larkins was a 51-year-old black male working as a human resources generalist at his employer’s Kentucky facility. The employer announced the closing of the Kentucky facility as part of a reduction in force and said Larkins’ position would be eliminated and the remaining human resources generalists at the employer’s other facilities would assume his responsibilities. Larkins offered to work out of one of the remaining facilities, but a lateral transfer was unavailable to him. On his last day of employment Larkins was given a waiver releasing any and all rights and causes of action he had or may have had against Regional Elite Airline Services, up to the date of his signing in exchange for his severance pay. After he signed, Larkins was told by the customer service manager that his position had not been eliminated. Instead, it had been offered to the customer service manager, a 29-year-old white male with no previous human resources experience, who had been instructed to keep the offer secret until after Larkins executed the release.
Larkins’ complaint raised several claims, including race discrimination under federal law, age discrimination under state law, the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), fraud, infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy. Ohio provides three avenues for a plaintiff to bring an age discrimination claim, one imposing a 180-day statute of limitations (Ohio Revised Code 4112.02(N)) and the remaining having a six-year statute of limitations (ORC 4112.14 and 4112.99). The complaint did not specify a provision of the Ohio Revised Code upon which his age claim was based and neither did the plaintiff’s response to a motion to dismiss. The court applied the 180-day state of limitations, and the plaintiff’s state law age claim was dismissed.
Larkins’ race, fraud, infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy claims also were dismissed because he did not tender back the severance pay he received for signing the release. The only remaining issue was the effectiveness of the waiver of claims in the release.
Outcome: The release did not waive Larkins’ ADEA claim. Larkins did not know that his position had been given to a younger man until after he signed the release, and although the position had been offered before he signed, the transfer was not effectuated until after Larkins signed the release.
Legal Significance: The employer’s conduct that gave rise to the federal age discrimination claim occurred beyond the time covered by the release the employee signed.