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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Austal USA, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 20, 2019

AUSTAL USA, LLC, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to claims for individual relief and jury demand (Doc. 26), Plaintiff's opposition thereto (Doc. 31), and Defendant's reply (Doc. 34). For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that judgment on the pleadings should be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed this action alleging that Defendant Austal USA, LLC (“Austal”) discriminated against Jimmy Cooper by failing to provide him leave as a reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA. (Doc. 1). According to the complaint, Mr. Cooper began working at Austal in 2007 as a Warehouseman. (Doc. 1, ¶ 14). In 2008, Cooper was diagnosed with Type II Insulin-Dependent Diabetes which sometimes required him to be absent or late to work or to need to leave work early or on short notice. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15). In late 2013 or early 2014, Cooper became a Logistics Associate and received additional duties which resulted in increased physical stress that made it more difficult for Cooper to control his blood sugar levels and resulted in an increased number of days Cooper was tardy or absent. (Doc. 1, ¶ 17). On May 6, 2014, Cooper's blood sugar spiked and he lost consciousness at work and injured his wrist. (Doc. 1, ¶ 18). Following the incident, Cooper was absent from work several days due to his disability. (Doc. 1, ¶ 18). Cooper also missed time from work in December 2014 due to his blood sugar becoming elevated. (Doc. 1, ¶ 19). Austal terminated Cooper on or about January 27, 2015 pursuant to Austal's attendance policy. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21). On March 5, 2015, Cooper filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging violations of the ADA by Austal. (Doc. 1, ¶ 7, Doc. 26-2). The EEOC filed a complaint in this Court seeking injunctive relief regarding Austal's general attendance policies as well as relief specific to Cooper, to make Cooper whole by providing back pay, front pay, compensation for Cooper's pecuniary losses, reinstatement, and punitive damages.

         Austal moved for judgment on the pleadings asserting that Cooper waived any right to recover individual relief from Austal via releases he executed on April 17, 2015. (Doc. 26). Austal attached copies of the releases to its motion. The first release, titled “SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AND APPLICATION FOR APPROVAL OF AGREED SETTLEMENT UNDER LHWCA SECTION 8(i)(1)” (hereinafter “LHWCA Settlement Agreement”), states that the parties agree “to settle all issues and claims between themselves whether arising under the AWCA, the LHWCA, or any other statute or law...” (Doc. 26-1, ¶ J). The USDOL approved the LHWCA Settlement Agreement on May 7, 2015. (Doc. 26-4). The second release, titled “AGREEMENT AND GENERAL RELEASE” (hereinafter “General Release”), included the following:

Employee hereby voluntarily resigns any employment relationship he may have with the Company and waives any right to employment or re-employment with the Company and also agrees he will not in the future apply for employment or re-employment with the Company, either directly or indirectly.
As part of the Settlement, Employee also waives and releases any and all rights or claims, whether presently known or unknown, he may have against the Company as of the date of his signing this Agreement, including any rights or claims which arise out of or are related in any way to his employment with, or separation of employment from, the Company. This release includes, but is not limited to, all rights or claims which arise under federal, state, or local law for discrimination, including all claims made or which could have been made in EEOC Charge 425-2015-00523, ...
Notwithstanding anything suggested herein to the contrary, nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to interfere with the Employee's rights under either the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act or Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act; to prohibit Employee from filing a charge with or participating in any investigation or proceeding by any federal, state or local agency charged with enforcement of any law, though under such circumstances Employee agrees to waive his right to recover monetary damages or individual relief in any charge, complaint or lawsuit filed by him or by anyone else on his behalf; or to waive any claims arising after the date of execution of this Agreement, including but not limited to claims for breach of this Agreement, or to any claims that may not be released as a matter of law.

(Doc. 26-3, ¶¶ 1-3).


         A. Standard

         Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed--but early enough not to delay trial--a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” The pleadings are closed for purposes of Rule 12(c), “when a complaint and answer have been filed.” Lillian B. ex rel. Brown v. Gwinnett Cty. Sch. Dist., 631 Fed.Appx. 851, 853 (11th Cir. 2015). Pleadings include complaint, answers, and affirmative defenses. Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(a). A Rule 12(c) motion “provides ‘a means of disposing of cases when ... a judgment on the merits can be achieved by focusing on the content of the competing pleadings....' ” Perez v. Wells Fargo N.A., 774 F.3d 1329, 1336 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367 (3d ed. 2004)) (emphasis in original).

         The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Thomas v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, 2019 WL 1573702, at *1 (M.D. Ala. Apr. 11, 2019) (citation omitted). In “determining whether a party is entitled to judgment on the pleadings, we accept as true all material facts alleged in the non-moving party's pleading, and we view those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Perez, 774 F.3d at 1335. “If a comparison of the averments in the competing pleadings reveals a material dispute of fact, judgment on the pleadings must be denied.” Id. A judgment on the pleadings is appropriate “when there are no material facts in dispute, and judgment may be rendered by considering the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts.” Horsley v. Rivera, 292 F.3d 695, 700 (11th Cir. 2002).

         B. Consideration of ...

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