Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Jan. 3

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Kahler v. Wal-Mart Stores

Mary Kahler was a fitting room and sales associate at a Walmart store in La Junta, Colorado, from May 14, 2014, until April 3, 2016. Between February 2015 and February 2016, she submitted three requests for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, which were all denied. Afterward, when Kahler was absent or tardy between Jan. 30 and April 2, 2016, Walmart recorded it as unauthorized, while absences and tardiness prior to Jan. 30 were recorded as authorized. Walmart eventually fired Kahler based on her attendance. Although she reapplied several times — even getting an interview at a job fair — she didn’t get another job offer from Walmart. 

On Feb. 24, 2017, Kahler filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission based on age and disability. After receiving her right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, she filed an initial lawsuit Dec. 10, 2018. In this complaint, she alleged Walmart and the manager of the La Junta store violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Her theories of liability included failure to hire and promote, wrongful discharge and retaliation. 

The district court granted Walmart’s motion to dismiss Aug. 20, 2019. On Jan. 10, 2020, the district court denied Kahler’s motion to file an amended complaint, entered final judgment, terminated the case and granted costs to the defendants. Three days later, one of Walmart’s attorneys sent an email to Kahler offering not to pursue the court-awarded costs if she signed a settlement agreement. On Jan. 16, the attorney elaborated that Kahler would also be required to agree to dismiss the lawsuit, waive her claims, acknowledge all wages had been paid, not disparage Walmart and not reapply for employment. 

Kahler didn’t agree to the proposed terms and on Feb. 21, 2020, submitted a new complaint to the EEOC claiming the Jan. 16 email was an act of retaliation. She filed her complaint May 29, 2020, after receiving her right-to-sue letter. The new complaint alleged the same described conduct in her first suit violated the FMLA, ADA, ADEA and Title VII and described the Jan. 16 email as retaliation for filing the original EEOC complaint. 

The district court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice on claim-preclusion grounds Aug. 17, 2021, and later denied her motion to reconsider. 

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that for all but one of Kahler’s claims, all elements of claim preclusion were satisfied. But the district court erred in dismissing the Jan. 16 email claim as preclusion because the email was sent after the final judgment in the first complaint on Jan. 10. 

Nonetheless, the 10th Circuit ruled the Jan. 16 email didn’t support a claim of retaliation because it amounted to a settlement offer and wasn’t followed by any additional retaliatory action by the employer. The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s orders to dismiss the complaint and denied Kahler’s motion for reconsideration.

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