130 L. Ed. 2d 1063, 115 S. Ct. 1095 (1995). The burden then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. Id. If the employer satisfies this threshold requirement, the burden then shifts back to the employee to show that the employer's stated reason is actually a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Id.
As set forth above, the Post Office moves for summary judgment on four grounds: (1) that the plaintiff's claims are barred by a prior settlement of Reidy's union grievances; (2) that Reidy has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; (3) that the plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act; and (4) that Reidy's claims are barred by the federal workers' compensation statute. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.
1. Settlement of the grievances
Initially, the Post Office argues that the plaintiff's claims are barred as a result of the settlement of his grievances through the Union. In Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 49, 39 L. Ed. 2d 147, 94 S. Ct. 1011 (1974), the Supreme Court recognized that an employee's right to file a federal lawsuit under Title VII will not be foreclosed if he "first pursues his grievance to final arbitration under the terms of a collective-bargaining agreement." In reaching this conclusion however, the court recognized that "presumably an employee may waive his cause of action under Title VII as part of a voluntary settlement. . . ." Id. at 52. In making such a determination the trial court must "determine at the outset that the employee's consent to the settlement was voluntary and knowing." Id. at 52 n.15. Waiver of such federal remedial rights will not be lightly inferred. Watkins v. Scott Paper Co., 530 F.2d 1159, 1172 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 861, 50 L. Ed. 2d 139, 97 S. Ct. 163 (1976). Once an individual executes a valid settlement agreement, he cannot subsequently seek both the benefit of the agreement and the opportunity to pursue the claim he agreed to settle. Wilmes v. United States Postal Serv., 810 F.2d 130, 132 (7th Cir. 1987), quoting, Kirby v. Dole, 736 F.2d 661, 664 (11th Cir. 1984) Melendez v. Horizon Cellular Tel. Co., 841 F. Supp. 687, 691 (E.D. Pa. 1994).
The circuits do not appear to be in agreement as to the standard to be applied when determining whether a general release was "knowing and voluntary." Torrez v. Public Serv. Co., 908 F.2d 687, 689 (10th Cir. 1990). The majority of the circuits, including the Second Circuit, consider a totality of the circumstances when assessing a plaintiff's knowledge and voluntariness. Bormann v. AT & T Communications, Inc., 875 F.2d 399, 403 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 924, 107 L. Ed. 2d 272, 110 S. Ct. 292 (1989) (applying the Age Discrimination in Employment Act); Beadle v. City of Tampa, 42 F.3d 633, 635 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1152, 132 L. Ed. 2d 846, 115 S. Ct. 2600 (1995); Torrez, 908 F.2d at 689-90; Stroman v. West Coast Grocery Co., 884 F.2d 458, 462 (9th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 854, 112 L. Ed. 2d 117, 111 S. Ct. 151 (1990); Cirillo v. Arco Chem. Co., 862 F.2d 448, 451 (3d Cir. 1988); Rogers v. General Elec. Co., 781 F.2d 452, 456 (5th Cir. 1986). Factors considered in this analysis include: (1) the plaintiff's education and business experience; (2) the amount of time the plaintiff has access to the agreement before signing it; (3) the role of the plaintiff in deciding the terms of the agreement; (4) the clarity of the agreement; (5) whether the plaintiff consulted with or was represented by an attorney; and (6) how the consideration given compares with the amount of recovery otherwise sought. Bormann, 875 F.2d at 403. This list is not exclusive. Id.
Other courts apply ordinary contract principles, focusing on the language of the settlement agreement. See O'Shea v. Commercial Credit Corp., 930 F.2d 358, 362 (4th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 859, 116 L. Ed. 2d 139, 112 S. Ct. 177 (1991); Runyan v. National Cash Register Corp., 787 F.2d 1039, 1044 n.10 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 850, 93 L. Ed. 2d 114, 107 S. Ct. 178 (1986); Pilon v. University of Minn., 710 F.2d 466 (8th Cir. 1983). However, as the Tenth Circuit recognized in Torrez, although cases such as Runyan and Pilon profess to apply general contract principles, the courts nevertheless considered other outside factors in reaching their conclusions. Torrez, 908 F.2d at 689 n.2, citing, Coventry v. United States Steel Corp., 856 F.2d 514, 522 n.9 (3d Cir. 1988).
Setting forth these standards however, only begins the analysis. In the arbitration context, the Fifth Circuit has recognized that where a plaintiff; who was represented by counsel, settles his union grievances for an award of back pay, he may not then seek the same award in an employment discrimination lawsuit. See Strozier v. General Motors Corp., 635 F.2d 424, 426 (5th Cir. 1981). According to the Strozier court, the "plaintiff's agreement to and acceptance of the settlement forecloses the present lawsuit with respect to the . . . disciplinary actions, even though the statutory claims [Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981] were not expressly covered. The remedy sought and settled was the precise remedy sought in this lawsuit." Id. In other words, the plaintiff may not later request additional monetary relief simply because he is dissatisfied with his settlement. Id. accord Pitchford v. Kitchens, 873 F. Supp. 167, 172 (E.D. Ark. 1994); (settlement of grievance arbitration precludes subsequent discrimination claim seeking the same remedy); Anderson v. Frank, 755 F. Supp. 187 (E.D. Mich. 1991) (granting summary judgment to Post office where plaintiff-postal worker settled grievance, and where subsequent Title VII action sought similar relief).
At first blush, this principle appears straightforward. However, in Perez v. State of Maine, 760 F.2d 11 (1st Cir. 1985), the plaintiff, Nazario Perez, filed suit in state court alleging unlawful employment discrimination. The case was settled with an agreement in which Perez expressly discontinued the state court action in "full and final settlement of this matter." Id. at 12 (emphasis in original). He subsequently filed suit in federal court under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Then Circuit Judge Stephen Breyer, writing for the panel, affirmed the decision of the district court finding the language of the settlement agreement ambiguous, thereby rendering a determination of its meaning was a proper issue for trial. Id. In reaching this conclusion, the First Circuit recognized the holding in Strozier, but found that in the case at bar, the plaintiff "received significantly less from the settlement" than he would have attained with a "complete legal victory." Id. at 12-13.
With these cases in mind, the Court turns to the terms of the settlement of Reidy's grievances. The disposition of Reidy's grievances is documented by several forms which are each entitled "Pre-Arbitration Agreement." The body of these forms contains the following statements:
As a result of our discussion on this date, in regard to the above captioned grievance, the [Union] withdraws its request for arbitration.