August 25, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Employment Discrimination Settlement Agreement Enforceable; Extended Time to File Notice of Appeal Applies When Judgment Not Entered in Separate Document

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in Walters v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Bennie Walters brought employment discrimination claims against his former employer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”). The parties reached an apparent settlement during a settlement conference and signed a document entitled “Settlement Terms,” that set forth the key terms of the agreement, indicating a fuller agreement was to be prepared within 20 days. Walters later refused to sign the final agreement. The district court granted Wal-Mart’s motion to enforce the agreement and denied Walters’ motion for reconsideration but did not enter the judgment in a separate document. The court did, however, enter a “Minute Sheet” on the docket, but that unsigned document did not indicate that Wal-Mart’s motion had been granted.

Wal-Mart argued that Walters’ appeal was untimely because it was filed more than 30 days after the minute sheet entry and F.R.A.P. 4(a) requires a notice of appeal be filed within 30 days after a judgment is entered. F.R.C.P. 58(a) requires that a judgment must be set out in a separate document. The Tenth Circuit held that the unsigned minute sheet was not a separate judgment so Walters’ time for appeal was governed by F.R.C.P. 58(c)(2), which gave him 150 days to file a notice of appeal. The denial of Walters’ motion for reconsideration also did not start the clock. When no separate judgment has been entered, “an appellant remains entitled to the extended deadline for filing a notice of appeal even if he files a motion for reconsideration before the judgment is deemed ‘entered’ under F.R.C.P. 58(c).”

Once the court determined it had jurisdiction, it reviewed the district court’s decision to enforce the settlement agreement for abuse of discretion and found none. Under Oklahoma contract law, “[a] party generally may not repudiate a settlement agreement absent fraud, duress, undue influence, or mistake.” The court found no duress. The court also rejected Walters’ claim that he was improperly denied the 21 days to consider the settlement included in the final agreement. The provision was included in order to comply with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”). Because the OWBPA 21-day consideration period for a valid waiver of an age discrimination claim does not apply to settlement of court cases, the agreement was not unenforceable on that basis. Because Walters did not challenge Wal-Mart’s compliance with OWBPA’s requirements that do apply to court cases, he waived that argument. The court affirmed the district court.