Airport Authority asks court to dismiss ex-employee’s lawsuit
A former employee of the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority waived future claims when she signed a separation agreement, and therefore, can’t bring a lawsuit, an Airport Authority attorney said in a filing in federal court in Denver on Tuesday.
In a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit, the Airport Authority denied allegations by former security coordinator Donna VanLandingham that she was pressured into signing a separation agreement after she was fired in 2011.
“Although plaintiff attempts to allege that she executed the release under duress, which (Airport Authority) denies, the court should not accept any legal conclusions about the circumstances surrounding plaintiff’s signing of the release in ruling on this motion to dismiss,” reads a filing by Danielle Urban, a Denver lawyer with the firm, Fisher & Phillips, working on behalf of the Airport Authority.
“As set out in this motion, plaintiff expressly waived any claims she had against GJRAA in exchange for valuable consideration,” the filing reads.
VanLandingham alleged in her lawsuit, which was filed in December, she signed a “take-it-or-leave-it” separation agreement, including a promise not to sue anyone, because it was threatened by former aviation director Rex Tippetts that she wouldn’t get seven weeks of accrued paid time off if she refused to sign.
The lawsuit continued, “She did not have the time or the money to retain a lawyer to advise her of her rights. She knew that she had been fired, and was unaware that there were laws protecting her from retaliation should she reveal information involving false claims made to the federal government. She was unaware that there were laws prohibiting bribery and intimidation to obstruct justice. She was unaware that the public policy of the state of Colorado prohibited retaliation against an individual for doing her civic duty in refusing to do an illegal act. She was unaware that there were state laws protecting her right to receive back pay.”
The Airport Authority, however, claims she was paid what she was owed and then some.
“In exchange for plaintiff’s execution of release, she received valuable consideration, above and beyond any amounts she would ordinary have been due at her termination,” Tuesday’s filing said.
Tippetts’ lawyers, who denied wrongdoing in their response to the lawsuit, said VanLandingham was fired “pursuant to a reorganization” at the airport that involved at least two layoffs.
VanLandingham alleged in her lawsuit she was fired Jan. 5, 2011, as retaliation for “refusal to obey orders” from Tippetts, who was committing fraud against the Federal Aviation Administration.
Tippetts was fired by the airport board Dec. 17, just over a month after agents of the FBI and U.S. Department of Transportation searched the airport’s administrative offices as part of a fraud investigation focused on airport leadership.