District of Colorado Holds General Post-Employment Release Covers False Claims Act Retaliation Claim

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In Vanlandingham v. Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority, the district court of Colorado held that a general release in an employment separation agreement covered the plaintiff’s claims under the anti-retaliation provision of the False Claims Act. (No. 13-cv-03414-RBJ, D. Colorado, June 2, 2014)

The plaintiff, a former security officer at the airport, alleged she was fired after refusing to deceive various entities about the need for a perimeter security fence at the airport. After being demoted and then terminated, she signed a termination agreement that included a general release of any employment claims she may have against the airport.

The plaintiff later brought suit, including claims under the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provision, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h). The airport brought a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim based on the release in the employment agreement.

Plaintiff countered that if the release covered her 3730(h) claim, it violated public policy. But the district court rejected that argument, relying on the holdings in Brown v. City of S. Burlington, Vt., 393 F.3d 337, 343 (2d Cir. 2004) and Coleson v. Inspector Gen. of Dep’t of Def., 721 F. Supp. 763, 765, 769 (E.D. Va. 1989).

The district court held that the employment agreement and release, as well as the circumstances surrounding the agreement, demonstrated that the plaintiff entered into the agreement voluntarily and with full knowledge of it’s consequences. As a result, the court had no trouble concluding that the plaintiff’s retaliation claims were barred by the release.