Friday, October 12, 2007

settlement agreements - enforcement

Thomas v. University of Pennsylvania - ED Pa. - October 2, 2007

Held, the parties entered into a binding settlement agreement of plaintiff's race discrimination case.

At a settlement conference, the parties agreed that defendant would pay plaintiff, a former employee, a certain amount. The court then dismissed the case. However, a dispute arose when the defendant added a no-rehire provision to the final written settlement agreement. Plaintiff objected to this provision and asked the court to vacate its dismissal of the case. Defendant eventually agreed to withdraw the offending provision. "The issue is whether the University's agreement to delete the language that [plaintiff' found unacceptable constituted an acceptance of an offer to settle the case" --a position advanced by the university, which sought enforcement of the agreement.

Settlement agreement are governed by ordinary principles of contract law, including the need for a meeting of the minds on all terms. An agreement to settle a lawsuit, voluntarily entered into, is binding on the parties, whether or not made in the present of the court, and even in the absence of a writing. Such an agreement is binding even where one party had a change of heart between the time s/he agreed to the terms of the settlement and when those terms were reduced to writing.

When plaintiff told the court that she would accept a certain financial settlement provided that there was no bar to her being rehired, she made a definite and specific offer to settle. When the University accepted, plaintiff became bound by the terms of her offer. Once the offer was accepted, the case was settled. A settlement is at bottom a contract, and it is basic contract law that an offer cannot be withdrawn after it has been accepted.