Although an employer, acting singly, has the undoubted right to discharge an employee or one of his family, the coercion arising from a threat to do so, when employed as a means to force the employee to sign a release of an action which he has instituted against him or another employer is unlawful, and, under circumstances showing that such means in fact overcame the employee's resistance and will, may constitute duress.
Appellant employee was injured when his vehicle was hit by a truck belonging to appellee company. After the accident, appellant signed two releases presented to him by his employer's claim service which had negotiated the releases with appellee company's insurer. Appellant subsequently filed a personal injury suit against appellee company and appellee driver. The trial court granted appellees' summary judgment motion, in which appellees claimed that the releases signed by appellant and the acceptance of the release checks barred any recovery. The court reversed and remanded. There was a material factual dispute whether the releases were obtained through duress and coercion. Appellant asserted that his employer threatened him that he had to sign the releases or he would lose his job.
Does the threat of firing someone from work amount to duress?
Even though an employer had the right to discharge an employee, an employer's threats of discharge to force an employee to sign a release could constitute duress and coercion. Moreover, there was evidence that appellee company was aware of the coercion, participated in the coercion, and later accepted the economic benefits that resulted from the coercion