Settlement Agreements With Former Employees Containing Broad Release Language May Prevent Subsequent Qui Tam Actions

No matter what kind of business you own and operate, an unfortunate part of running a company is the inevitable employment disputes with employees. Whether it is an action over wages, job duties, or other issues, many business owners will find themselves in court opposite a current or former employee at some point. Lubin Austermuehle’s Naperville business attorneys know the legal challenges that business owners face, and are always mindful of new case law that affects our clients.

Enterprise Recovery Systems, Inc. v. Salmeron is a decision handed down by the Appellate Court of Illinois earlier this year regarding an employer/employee dispute filed in the circuit court of Cook County. Plaintiff Enterprise Recovery Systems hired Defendant Salmeron as general manager and director of operations for their recovery and resolution of delinquent student loans business. Defendant worked for Plaintiff for four years before being terminated, and she sued Plaintiff for sexual harassment. This case settled, and Defendant signed a broadly worded release containing language that discharged Plaintiff from any other claims arising out of Defendant’s employment with Plaintiff in exchange for $300,000. After this settlement, Defendant Salmeron filed a qui tam action against Plaintiff Enterprise on behalf of the federal government alleging that Enterprise had defrauded the government. The federal government declined to intervene in the qui tam action, and the lawsuit was eventually dismissed with prejudice due to the misconduct of Salmeron’s lawyer, according to the court. Because of issues brought to light in the qui tam action, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant alleging fraud in the inducement and breach of Defendant’s duty of loyalty to Plaintiff. After the court found repeated misconduct by Defendant’s attorney (which included multiple violations of court orders), the trial court banned Defendant from presenting evidence in her defense of the fraud and breach of fiduciary duty action. Plaintiff then moved for summary judgment on both claims.

Plaintiff’s motion showed that Defendant produced company log reports in the qui tam suit and those reports were stolen from the Plaintiff. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant failed to alert Plaintiff about the supposed illegal conduct of Plaintiff’s employees prior to notifying the government and filing the qui tam lawsuit. Additionally, Plaintiffs contended that Defendant planned to file the qui tam action before signing the release that was a part of the sexual harassment suit settlement. Defendant failed to file a response to the motion for summary judgment, so the court granted the motion. Plaintiff appealed, and the matter was reviewed de novo by the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to the fraud in the inducement claim because the court found that Defendant knew she had information for the qui tam case against Plaintiff at the time she negotiated the sexual harassment claim’s settlement and release. Furthermore, the court found that Defendant waited until she had received her last settlement payment before filing the qui tam lawsuit and signed the settlement agreement with no intention of honoring it. The Court upheld summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s breach of the duty of loyalty cause of action because Defendant was a high-level member of Plaintiff’s management team and owed a duty of loyalty to the company. This duty was breached when Defendant sought to profit from information harmful to the company that was obtained through her position of trust within the company. The Court also explained that it was reasonable for Plaintiffs to expect Defendant to neither exploit her position for personal gain nor hinder the business operations of the company

Lubin Austermuehle is a business litigation firm based in Chicago and Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. We represent plaintiffs and defendants and our firm has represented clients in matters ranging from shareholder freeze-outs to contract disputes. Our attorneys have over two decades of experience in business litigation and have won favorable verdicts in “bet the business” lawsuits. Lubin Austermuehle’s Skokie business litigation lawyers can identify and understand the legal issues in a dispute, no matter how complex they may be. Our resources and knowledge enable us to formulate a plan of action that will help further your interests, resolve your problems, and get you back to growing your business. We always aim to resolve your legal issues efficiently with minimal costs. If your business is being sued or you are seeking advice to stay out of court, call our Chicago business lawyers to discuss what Lubin Austermuehle can do for you. For a consultation, call 630-333-0333 or send us an email through our website.

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