Elizabeth McLeod; Heidi O'Sullivan; Sherri Slocum; Ivette Harper; Robert West; Kevin Stemwell; Stephen Miller; Peggy Maxe; Karalyn Littlefield; Colleen Friedrichs; Arlene Hornilla; Marilyn Epp; Dwight Sevaldson; Ann Carlson; Michael Baehr; Gabriele Bauer; Mark Davis; Susanne Dehnke; Frank Delaney; Paula Freeman-Brown; Barbara Fuglie; Richard Fugile; Christopher Gunn; Michelle Laurence; Robert Morris; Vicki Nellen-Jungers; Heidi Neumann; Greg Norman; Michelle Racepla; Susan Ryan; Timothy Schroeder; Diane Sundquist; Greg Zimprich, for and on behalf of themselves and other persons similarly situated Plaintiffs - Appellees
General Mills, Inc. Defendant-Appellant Equal Employment Advisory Council; Chamber of Commerce of the United States Amici on Behalf of Appellant(s) AARP; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Amici on Behalf of Appellee(s)
Submitted: November 16, 2016
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
BENTON and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and STRAND, District
BENTON, Circuit Judge.
Discrimination in Employment Act, as amended by the Older
Workers Benefit Protection Act, permits waivers of ADEA
rights and claims-but only if they are "knowing and
voluntary" as defined by statute. 29 U.S.C. §
626(f)(1). In a waiver dispute, "the party asserting the
validity of a waiver shall have the burden of proving in a
court of competent jurisdiction that a waiver was knowing and
voluntary." § 626(f)(3). Here, General Mills, Inc.,
terminated employees and offered them benefits in exchange
for releasing all ADEA claims and arbitrating release-related
disputes. Thirty-three employees who signed releases request
a declaratory judgment that the releases were not
"knowing and voluntary." They also bring collective
and individual ADEA claims. General Mills moved to compel
arbitration, and the district court denied that motion.
Having jurisdiction under 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(B), this
court reverses and remands.
2012, General Mills announced it was terminating about 850
employees. General Mills offered them severance packages in
exchange for signing release agreements. By the
agreements' terms, employees release General Mills from
all claims relating to their terminations-including,
specifically, ADEA claims. The agreements also state that
claims covered by the agreements will be individually
[I]n the event there is any dispute or claim arising out of
or relating to the above release of claims, including,
without limitation, any dispute about the validity or
enforceability of the release or the assertion of any claim
covered by the release, all such disputes or claims will be
resolved exclusively through a final and binding arbitration
on an individual basis and not in any form of class,
collective, or representative proceeding.
former General Mills employees who signed agreements sued
General Mills under the ADEA. They allege, first, that their
ADEA claim waivers were not "knowing and voluntary"
as defined by § 626(f)(1) and related regulations, and
request a declaratory judgment that the agreements do not
waive their ADEA rights. They also allege that the
terminations discriminated on the basis of age, and bring
disparate-treatment and disparate-impact claims, both
collectively and individually. General Mills moved to dismiss
and compel arbitration on an individual basis. The district
court denied the motion.
court reviews a determination concerning the arbitrability of
a dispute de novo." Owen v. Bristol Care,
Inc., 702 F.3d 1050, 1052 (8th Cir. 2013). The Federal
Arbitration Act "requires courts to enforce agreements
to arbitrate according to their terms . . . unless the
FAA's mandate has been 'overridden by a contrary
congressional command.'" CompuCredit Corp. v.
Greenwood, 132 S.Ct. 665, 669 (2012) (citation omitted),
quoting Shearson/American Express Inc. v. McMahon,
482 U.S. 220, 226 (1987). "[I]f a dispute presents
multiple claims, some arbitrable and some not, the former
must be sent to arbitration even if this will lead to
piecemeal litigation." KPMG LLP v. Cocchi, 132
S.Ct. 23, 24 (2011) (per curiam).
assert, for the first time on appeal, that the agreements do
not cover their ADEA claims. They argue that the agreement to
arbitrate applies only to claims "relating to" the
release of claims, and their substantive ADEA claims are not
related to the release of claims. They are wrong. The
agreements' "relating to" sentence shows the
parties' intent to arbitrate both disputes about
the release and substantive ADEA claims. The
arbitration provision applies to "any . . . claim . . .
relating to the above release of claims, including . . . the
assertion of any claim covered by the release." The
agreements explicitly state that a claim "relates
to" the release of claims if it asserts a claim covered
by the agreements. ADEA claims ...