Question: Alan, I signed a severance agreement with little legal advice.
I later had to defend myself at an unemployment hearing and I won. At the unemployment hearing my former employer stated the reason I was actually let go had nothing to do with the reason stated in the severance agreement. He stated I gave away company secrets and was doing his best to make it look like I was dishonest.
Do I have a case of wrongful termination?
Answer: Dear Fred: The answer to your question is “Legally speaking, no, with a few narrow exceptions.”
a. Most severance agreements require the employee to give the employer an all-encompassing release of claims. In the vast majority of severance agreements, in order to receive the severance monies and other benefits, the employee is required to give up all of his or her claims against the employer of every type.
b. In order to “get out of” the release of claims, you would probably have to return the severance monies. Every now and then, an employee feels either duped or tricked into signing a severance agreement, and convinces either the employer or a judge that he or she deserves a right to raise a claim against the employer. However, “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” If you were able to get your employer or a judge to give you “a second bite of the cupcake,” you’d probably have to return your severance monies to your employer, and possibly even reimburse your employer for the value of the severance benefits you received or used, such as outplacement and health insurance. Most people in your situation do not want to do that.
c. There is no legal requirement that the reason stated in your agreement is the same, only or true reason you were terminated. Sometimes, a severance agreement says that the employee is being terminated due to a “restructuring” or “downsizing.” That may be true, but it could ALSO be true that the reason that particular employee was selected was that employee’s poor skills, or chronic tardiness. That, by itself, does not lead to the right to sue an employer.
Though you may feel upset, angry or even puzzled by this new alleged reason being given for your departure, I don’t think it should affect you, and I wouldn’t see it as a reason to consider trying to raise a new claim.
Hope that helps. My best to you.
Best, Al Sklover
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