The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stein, District Judge.
Defendant The Jewish Guild for the Blind ("JGB") has moved
pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss plaintiff's claims
for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the
"ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act (the "RHA"). Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), and the New York State
Human Rights Law (the "HRL").*fn1 Because this Court finds that
plaintiff "knowingly and voluntarily" released defendant from
these claims, defendant's motion is granted, and plaintiff's
complaint is dismissed. In addition, JGB's motion for sanctions
against plaintiff and her attorney pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 is
Laramee was employed by JGB as a secretary from 1982 until
March 13, 1998. (Complaint at ¶ 4, Opp. at 10). Laramee alleges
that, beginning in early 1996, she was "harassed and criticized
in an ongoing manner by both supervisors and co-workers" at JGB.
(Complaint at ¶ 12). Specifically, she contends that unspecified
individuals (1) removed from her desk and publically displayed
sanitary products and undergarments; (2) made unspecified
disparaging remarks about her weight, hair, eyeglasses, and
dress; and (3) pressured her to join Weight Watchers. (Id.).
Moreover, Laramee contends that she has been "diagnosed with
morbid obesity" and that JGB has discriminated against her on the
basis of this disability or perceived disability. (Id. at ¶¶
4-6). In particular, Laramee alleges that JGB has failed to
reasonably accommodate her disability by refusing to provide her
with an appropriate chair for switchboard work, a smokefree
environment, and a suitable parking area. (Id. at ¶ 13).
Sometime in mid-1997, Laramee requested that Local 1119
represent her in an arbitration of a claim brought against JGB
concerning JGB's allegedly discriminatory treatment of Laramee.
(Id. at ¶ 22). As required by the collective bargaining
agreement, the union voted on whether to arbitrate Laramee's
grievance and, by a majority vote, the matter was accepted for
arbitration. (Id. at ¶ 23).
On March 13, 1998, Laramee resigned from JGB "for personal
reasons." (Id. at ¶ 26). She received a proposed severance
agreement (the "Agreement") from JGB two weeks later, (Id. at ¶
28), and signed the Agreement three and one-half weeks after
receiving it. (Id. at ¶ 31). At all times during this period,
Laramee was represented by counsel. Pursuant to the Agreement,
Laramee received 20 weeks of severance pay and one year of health
care coverage. (Id. at ¶ 27; Agreement at ¶¶ 2, 3). The
Agreement also provides that:
Laramee hereby releases and discharges the Guild from
any liabilities, obligations or claims of any nature
whatsoever, except for the specific obligations of
the Guild under this Agreement, including, but not
limited to, claims arising out of or in connection
with her employment by the Guild or the termination
thereof. . . . Laramee acknowledges and agrees that
she is entering into this Agreement freely and
voluntarily and with a full understanding of its
terms. Laramee further acknowledges and agrees that
she has been fairly represented by the Union.
(Agreement at ¶¶ 6, 8). In return, the union agreed to withdraw
with prejudice the arbitration that it had commenced on behalf of
Laramee. (Id. at ¶ 7).
JGB has moved pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the
complaint on the grounds that Laramee waived the claims that she
has now brought against JGB when she signed the Agreement. When
deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6),
the Court may consider documents attached to the complaint as
exhibits or incorporated in it by reference. See Brass v.
American Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993)
(citing Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42,
47-48 (2d Cir. 1991)). Accordingly, the Court may consider the
terms of the Agreement in deciding this motion.
Pursuant to New York law, the validity of a release is governed
by principles of contract law, and a release that is clear and
unambiguous and which is knowingly and voluntarily entered into
will be enforced. See Pampillonia v. RJR Nabisco, Inc.,
138 F.3d 459, 463 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Skluth v. United Merchants
& Mfrs., Inc., 163 A.D.2d 104, 106, 559 N.Y.S.2d 280, 282 (1st
Dept. 1990)). The essential inquiry in determining the validity
of a release of a claim brought pursuant to the federal civil
rights statutes - other than the Older Worker's Benefit
Protection Act (the "OWBPA") - is whether, considering the
"totality of the circumstances," the individual's waiver of his
or her right can be characterized as "knowing and voluntary."
See Bormann v. AT & T Communications, Inc., 875 F.2d 399,
402-03 (2d Cir. 1989); Baba v. Warren Management Consultants,
Inc., 882 F. Supp. 339, 344 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 89 F.3d 826 (2d
Cir. 1995). This standard "is somewhat more stringent than the
analysis called for under ordinary [New York State] contract
law for determining whether a release of discrimination claims
was executed knowingly and voluntarily." Lambertson v. Kerry
Ingredients, Inc., 50 F. Supp .2d 163, 168 (E.D.N.Y. 1999)
(quoting Nicholas v. Nynex, Inc., 929 F. Supp. 727, 730
(S.D.N.Y. 1996)). Accordingly, if Laramee has waived her federal
claims, she has also waived her New York State law claims.
The balance of those factors in this case weighs heavily in
favor of upholding the validity of the release. The first factor,
plaintiff's education and business experience, neither favors nor
disfavors plaintiff. Although there is some dispute as to
Laramee's degree of sophistication, accepting all of plaintiff's
allegations as true - that Laramee was employed in a secretarial
position and had a high school education - this factor, while not
weighing heavily in JGB's favor, does not warrant invalidating
the release. See Reid v. IBM Corp., No. 95-1755, 1997 WL
357969, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 1997) (business studies in ...