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Wisecup v. Aichi Forge USA, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

April 6, 2018

DANA WISECUP, Plaintiff,
v.
AICHI FORGE USA, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and/or Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 7], which has been fully briefed [DE 10, 11] and is ripe for consideration.[1]With respect to Plaintiff's three employment-related retaliation claims raised in this action against Aichi Forge USA, Inc. (“Aichi”), Defendant argues that they are barred by a settlement and release agreement (the "Agreement") that Plaintiff voluntarily signed more than a year after the termination of her employment. She objects on the grounds that the settlement agreement was intended solely to resolve her workers' compensation claim. After careful consideration of the facts before this Court, the Court concludes that her claims should be dismissed in light of the Agreement, and Defendant's Motion will be granted.

         I.

         Plaintiff worked for Aichi for approximately 15 years. (Complaint, ¶ 8). She filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in May 2013, which was settled around July 22, 2013. (Complaint, ¶ 26). Then, she suffered an injury to her shoulder while at work, on October 4, 2013. (Complaint, ¶ 11). She filed a workers' compensation claim, (Complaint, ¶ 14), and took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") until she exhausted her allotted leave in May 2014, at which time Aichi terminated her employment. (Complaint, ¶¶ 20-22).

         Over a year later, on, July 22, 2015, Plaintiff signed an Agreement, settling her workers' compensation claim and other potential claims, as follows:

In exchange for this consideration, the plaintiff agrees to waive and release the defendant/employer from any and all claims for liability arising out of the October 4, 2013 work injury. The plaintiff's waiver and release includes, but is not limited to, claims for additional income/indemnity benefits, vocational rehabilitation benefits, additional medical benefits for any and all treatment, and the right to reopen. Plaintiff waives all claims, known or otherwise.

         The ALJ entered an Order approving the Agreement on July 27, 2015.

         In 2017, Plaintiff filed the three-count Complaint in this matter, alleging retaliation under Title VII and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act ("KCRA"), FMLA retaliation, and workers' compensation retaliation in violation of KRS 342.197. (Complaint, ¶¶ 25-37). She avers that Aichi wrongfully terminated her employment in retaliation against her for engaging in protected activity under Title VII and the KCRA when she filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in May 2013. (Complaint, ¶ 26, 27). Plaintiff also avers that she was prohibited from returning to work and subsequently terminated and wrongfully retaliated against after using FMLA time in light of her October 4, 2013 shoulder injury. (Complaint, ¶¶ 12, 20, 21, 30, 31). Finally, Plaintiff claims she engaged in protected activity when she filed her workers' compensation claim following her October 2013 injury and was subsequently terminated in retaliation for her filing. (Complaint, ¶¶ 35-36).

         II.

         Under Kentucky law,

[a]n agreement to settle legal claims is essentially a contract subject to the rules of contract interpretation. It is valid if it satisfies the requirements associated with contracts generally, i.e., offer and acceptance, full and complete terms, and consideration. See, e.g., Hines v. Thomas Jefferson Fire Ins. Co., Ky., 267 S.W.2d 709 (1953); Huff Contracting v. Sark, Ky.App., 12 S.W.3d 704 (2000)(involving settlement of claim to future medical benefits under workers' compensation law); Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Ashley, Ky.App., 722 S.W.2d 55 (1986)(same). The primary object in construing a contract or compromise settlement agreement is to effectuate the intentions of the parties. See Withers v. Commonwealth, Department of Transportation, Ky.App., 656 S.W.2d 747, 749 (1983); Wilcox v. Wilcox, Ky., 406 S.W.2d 152, 153 (1966). “Any contract or agreement must be construed as a whole, giving effect to all parts and every word in it if possible.” City of Louisa v. Newland, Ky., 705 S.W.2d 916, 919 (1986).

Cantrell Supply, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 94 S.W.3d 381, 384-85 (Ky. Ct. App. 2002)

[Only w]here a contract is ambiguous or silent on a vital matter, a court may consider parol and extrinsic evidence involving the circumstances surrounding execution of the contract, the subject matter of the contract, the objects to be accomplished, and the conduct of the parties. See, e.g., Reynolds Metals Co. v. Barker, Ky., 256 S.W.2d 17, 18 (1953); Dennis v. Watson, Ky., 264 S.W.2d 858, 860 (1953); L.K. Comstock & Co., Inc. v. Becon Const. Co.,932 F.Supp. 948, 965 (E.D.Ky.1993). Absent an ambiguity in the contract, the parties' intentions must be discerned from the four corners of the instrument without resort to extrinsic evidence. Hoheimer v. Hoheimer, Ky., 30 S.W.3d 176, 178 (2000); L.K. Comstock, 932 F.Supp. at 964. A contract is ambiguous if a reasonable person would find it susceptible to different or inconsistent interpretations. Transport Ins. Co. v. Ford, Ky.App., 886 S.W.2d 901, 905 (1994); Luttrell v. Cooper Industries, Inc.,60 F.Supp.2d 629, 631 (E.D.Ky. 1998). The fact that one party may have intended different results, however, is insufficient to construe a contract at variance with its plain and unambiguous terms. Green v. McGrath,662 F.Supp. 337, 342 (E.D.Ky. 1986). Generally, the interpretation of a contract, including determining whether a contract is ambiguous, is a question of law for the courts and is subject to de novo review. First Commonwealth Bank of Prestonsburg v. West, Ky.App., 55 S.W.3d 829, 835 (2000); Morganfield Nat'l Bank v. Damien Elder & Sons, Ky., 836 S.W.2d 893, 895 (1992); Fay E. Sams Money Purchase Pension Plan v. Jansen, Ky.App., 3 ...

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