Deed of release prevents discrimination claim

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Deed of release prevents discrimination claim

A deed of release executed by an employee in resolution of an unfair dismissal claim was held to prevent the employee from proceeding with a disability discrimination claim against the same employer.

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A deed of release executed by an employee in resolution of an unfair dismissal claim was held to prevent the employee from proceeding with a disability discrimination claim against the same employer. 

The decision of the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) affirms the effectiveness of a well-prepared deed of release in preventing further claims by an employee after a settlement has been reached in legal proceedings (Roseman (No 2) v United Bonded Fabrics Pty Limited, [2000] NSW ADT 152).

The decision also indicates that the effectiveness of the deed will depend on whether its terms have been adequately explained to the employee before he or she signed it, and whether or not the employee was under duress at that time.

Terms of deed

The deed signed by the complainant during the unfair dismissal proceedings in the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales (IRC) included the following release:

3. RELEASE

The Employee releases and discharges the Company from all Claims (with the exception of workers' compensation Claims) which the Employee has, or which but for this Deed, could, would or might at any time have or have had against the Company in respect of or arising out, either directly or indirectly, the Employment or the Termination.

"Claims" was defined in the Deed as meaning "all claims, demands, suits, causes of action, damages, debts, costs, verdicts and judgments whatsoever whether at law or in equity or under any statute".

Despite the terms of the Deed, the sought to proceed with a complaint of disability discrimination in the ADT. The employer made an application that the complaint dismissed under s111of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977on the basis that the existence of the Deed was a complete bar to the complainant proceeding with his discrimination claim.

Proceedings before Industrial Relations Commission

In support of its s111application, the employer produced the transcript of  the unfair dismissal hearing in the Industrial Relations Commission. The transcript indicated that the Commissioner had asked the complainant whether he understood that signing the deed would preclude all other claims apart from his workers compensation claim. According to the transcript the complainant indicated that he did. It was clear also that the employer's representative outlined the limits placed on the complainant by the Deed.

In the ADT the complainant asserted that when he signed the deed he did not understand that it would prevent him from pursuing a discrimination claim. A friend of the complainant, a religious minister, gave evidence that prior to witnessing the complainant's signature, he drew the exclusion clause to the complainant's attention. The minister stated that he told the complainant that if he wanted to pursue his discrimination claim he should not accept the deed. The ADT accepted the minister's evidence and was satisfied that the complainant had ample opportunity to obtain other independent advice when the deed was posted to him.

The ADT was also satisfied of the fact that the complainant brought no cogent evidence of any duress or pressure applied by the employer, and that he was accordingly not under any duress when he signed the Deed.

Capacity to sign deed

The Complainant said that as a result of anti-depressant medication he was taking at the time the Deed was executed, he did not have the mental capacity to understand what he was signing. He sought to have his doctors notes admitted into evidence to support this claim. The Tribunal noted, however, that the complainant did not see the doctor until 22 months after the time in question. The ADT was of the view that medical evidence as to the state of mind of the complainant that long ago could have no weight and did not allow the documents to be admitted.

While the minister gave evidence that the complainant had been acting erratically when he signed the deed, he also said that the Complainant was determined to sign the document in question. The ADT said that in the absence of contemporaneous medical evidence, it was not satisfied that the complainant had established that he did not have the capacity to understand the basic provisions of the deed.

The ADT was satisfied that the deed provided a complete bar to the complainant pursuing a matter before it. The complaint was accordingly dismissed.

Workers compensation claim

The ADT commented that the complainant was seeking an investigation by the Anti-Discrimination Board in order to progress his workers compensation claim. The ADT commented that this was a misguided claim and said that if the complainant wished to pursue his workers compensation claim it will be necessary for him to produce evidence himself of the circumstances supporting that claim. It was not for the Anti-Discrimination Board to carry out that work.

 

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