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Miles v. Unified School District No. 500

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 16, 2019

SUSAN M. MILES, Plaintiff,


          Daniel D. Crabtree, United States District Judge.

         This case concerns whether a separation agreement and mutual release signed by plaintiff Susan M. Miles and defendant Unified School District No. 500, Kansas City, Kansas (“the District”), operates as a complete defense to plaintiff's claims against the District and defendant Valerie Castillo.

         Ms. Miles is a former teacher in one of the District's schools. Her Complaint asserts employment claims against the District and defendant Valerie Castillo under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213; Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654; and Employment Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. Doc. 1 at 8-15. Ms. Miles's Complaint also asserts a retaliatory discharge claim under Kansas common law. Id. at 12-13.

         On June 21, 2018, the District filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order/Injunction and Stay of Proceedings. Doc. 20. The District's motion asserts that Ms. Miles released all of her employment claims when she signed a separation agreement and mutual release (“the Agreement”). The court-after conferring with the parties-concluded the enforceability of the Agreement was a threshold issue warranting partial discovery, a separate trial, and a stay of all other case proceedings. Doc. 46 at 2.

         On March 27, 2019, the court conducted a bench trial on the issue. Doc. 59. And, on April 5, 2019, the parties submitted their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Docs. 61-62. The court, Ms. Miles contends, should not enforce the Agreement because she did not enter into the Agreement knowingly and voluntarily due to fraud, duress, and lack of mental capacity. Also, she argues that-under the totality of the circumstances-she did not waive her federal employment claims. After reviewing the evidence presented at trial and the parties' filings, the court concludes Ms. Miles and the District entered into an enforceable Agreement.

         I. Legal Standard

         “In an action tried on the facts without a jury . . ., the court must find the facts specifically and state its conclusions of law separately.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1). While this rule “does not require inordinately detailed findings, ” the court must provide enough detail to “indicate the factual basis for the ultimate conclusion.” Colo. Flying Acad., Inc. v. United States, 724 F.2d 871, 878 (10th Cir. 1984) (quoting Kelley v. Everglades Drainage Dist., 319 U.S. 415, 422 (1943)); see also OCI Wyo., L.P. v. PacifiCorp, 479 F.3d 1199, 1204-05 (10th Cir. 2007) (holding that a district court failed to satisfy its duty under Rule 52(a) to set out facts supporting its verdict).

         II. Findings of Facts

         Ms. Miles is a former teacher for the District. On April 8, 2017, Ms. Miles fell at work. She suffered numerous injuries, including post-concussive syndrome and occipital neuralgia. Ms. Miles hired attorney Kathleen Cossairt and filed a worker's compensation claim against the District. And, Ms. Miles received medical treatment from the District's worker's compensation health care provider through April 2017.

         From August 9, 2016, to November 2, 2016, Ms. Miles was on FMLA leave. As part of her worker's compensation claim, Ms. Miles began receiving Temporary Total Disability (“TDD”) benefits from the District in October 2016. But, before Ms. Miles received any TDD benefits, she received four paychecks from the District. Ms. Miles suspected-from the first payment on August 15, 2016-that the payments were made in error because FMLA leave is unpaid. On August 23, 2016, Ms. Miles sent an email to Ms. Cossairt stating, “I'm almost sure the paycheck I got on August 15 was in error. Not sure how to proceed from here.” Pl.'s Ex. 23 at 2. On August 25, 2016, Ms. Miles sent an email to Jania Motley, a District employee. Ms. Miles explained that she had received a paycheck covering the August 1-15, 2016, pay period. Ms. Miles wondered if the payment was correct, or, if paid in error, how the error would be corrected. Pl.'s Ex. 26. Ms. Miles then used the funds paid by the District to pay her bills and living expenses.

         On October 26, 2016, Fred Greenbaum-an attorney for the District-sent Ms. Cossairt a letter. The letter stated:

Please be advised your client received her full salary while she was not working and receiving temporary total disability benefits for pay periods of August 15, August 31, September 15, and September 30, 2016. The payments were $2, 419.67, which totals $9, 678.68. We will need to receive credit for the payments if and when we resolve this matter. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Pl.'s Ex. 25 at 1.

         On October 31, 2016, Ms. Cossairt responded to Mr. Greenbaum in an email. Ms. Cossairt stated,

I have reviewed your letter dated 10-26-16 regarding the school district's overpayment of wages. I only represent Ms. Miles in her workers compensation case and this is related to other employer/employee legal issues. Please advise your client that Ms. Miles is not represented by me in any other matters other than her work comp case. Evidently, they are refusing to discuss this matter and other employer/employee issues with her directly, such as insurance coverage due to being informed of my representation. This is not the case.

Def.'s Ex. 100.

         On November 16, 2016, Greg Goheen-another lawyer representing the District-sent Ms. Miles a demand letter. After explaining that Ms. Miles had received an overpayment of $9, 678.68, Mr. Goheen requested payment within 10 days. Def.'s Ex. 101. Mr. Goheen wrote, “Should you fail to pay the above amount, a recommendation for termination of your teaching contract will be made and legal proceedings may be initiated against you.” Id.

         Ms. Cossairt spoke with Mr. Goheen on November 21, 2016, about the demand letter. Ms. Cossairt informed Ms. Miles that, “Mr. Goheen is considering our call a timely response.” Ms. Cossairt then told Ms. Miles that Mr. Goheen had extended the deadline to December 30, 2016, to repay the $9, 678.68. At trial, Mr. Goheen testified that the deadline was important to the District because of quarterly tax implications.

         In late November 2016, Ms. Miles applied for a loan to repay the District. A month later, on December 15 and 22, 2016, Ms. Cossairt sent emails to Mr. Goheen and Mr. Greenbaum. Ms. Cossairt informed them that Ms. Miles was in the process of securing a loan.

         On December 28, 2016, Ms. Cossairt spoke with Robert Turner, a third lawyer who represented the District. This same day, Ms. Cossairt responded in an email to Mr. Turner and Mr. Goheen stating, “I tried calling and emailing my client with no response. Please contact me after ...

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