Oubre v. Entergy Operations Inc.

PETITIONER: Oubre
RESPONDENT: Entergy Operations Inc.
LOCATION: Knowles' Car

DOCKET NO.: 96-1291
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 522 US 422 (1998)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1997
DECIDED: Jan 26, 1998

ADVOCATES:
Beth S. Brinkmann - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioner
Barbara G. Haynie - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Carter G. Phillips - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1994, Dolores Oubre, a scheduler at a power plant run by Entergy Operations, Inc., was given the option of either improving her job performance or accepting a voluntary arrangement for her severance. Accepting a severance package, Oubre signed a release of all claims against Entergy. Entergy failed to comply with several requirements for a release under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as set forth in the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA). After receiving all of her severance pay, Oubre filed a charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Oubre then sued Entergy, alleging constructive discharge on the basis of her age in violation of the ADEA and state law. Entergy argued that Oubre had ratified the defective release by failing to return the $6,258 in severance she had received. The District Court entered summary judgment for Entergy. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Is an employee's release of claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act unenforceable if the release did not comply with the requirements of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act?

Media for Oubre v. Entergy Operations Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1997 in Oubre v. Entergy Operations Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 96-1291, Delores Oubre v. Entergy Operations, Inc.--

Ms. Haynie.

Barbara G. Haynie:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

After 2 years of careful consideration, in response to a regulatory void, Congress enacted the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act to protect the rights of older workers who were in greater force leaving... being forced to leave the work place.

The Older Worker Benefit Protection Act mandates that an older worker may not waive their rights secured under the ADEA unless such waiver is knowing and voluntary as defined by the act.

If an employer chooses to utilize a waiver of age discrimination rights, Congress requires an employer to provide the older worker with the requisite information and time to assess the value of the right to be waived.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' adoption of the common law contract principles of ratification and tender-back in addressing a situation where the employer uses a waiver which is... does not comply with the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act will in all practical purpose render the act meaningless.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

What would happen in the case if the day after the release is signed, but before any money changed hands, the employer says, we've made a mistake, it's a good faith mistake, we didn't know about the ADEA, we want to rescind the release?

Barbara G. Haynie:

Well, Your Honor, pursuant to the statute there is a revocation period of 7 days after the release is signed.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

No, but this is the employer.

Barbara G. Haynie:

I understand.

There will be a 7-day--that release is not effective pursuant to--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, let's change the hypothetical.

Suppose... I want the release to be effective.

Barbara G. Haynie:

--7 days after it.

The employer would not have the right to rescind the release.

It is an invalid release with regard to ADEA claims if it does not comply with the statute.

If they rescind the release to all other waivers, I believe the plaintiff or the older worker will have the right to proceed against the employer.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

But in other words you couldn't have--

--doesn't have to rescind it.

Excuse me.

You couldn't have an equitable action to rescind the release at the employer's behest?

Let's assume a good faith mistake on his part.

Barbara G. Haynie:

No, sir.

If the waiver does not comply with the requirements of the act, it is a void waiver pursuant to--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well then, he wouldn't have to pay... he wouldn't have to pay any of the money, either?

Right.

If it's void, he wouldn't have to pay the money.

Barbara G. Haynie:

--Well, the problem with not having to pay the money, Your Honor, is that the waiver includes, and particularly in this case, many other actions, other than a waiver of ADEA--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

That's, it seems to me, one of the points, is that this might very well be valid as to everything but the ADEA.