Despite having obtained record amounts in settlement payments from employers during its last fiscal year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been suing fewer companies and has lost some high profile lawsuits.
Despite making them a priority, the EEOC lost some controversial “systemic” investigations last year. These investigations are expansive examinations of companies suspected of participating in illegal employment practices including multiple alleged victims.
In one such case where the EEOC sued CRST Van in a frivolous lawsuit alleging that CRST had failed to protect its female employees from sexual harassment, the EEOC was ordered to pay CRST $4.7 million in attorney fees, expenses and costs. U.S. District Judge Linda R. Reade wrote in her ruling: “The EEOC cannot avoid liability for attorneys’ fees simply by artfully crafting a complaint using vague language to hide frivolous allegations.” All of the EEOC’s claims in the lawsuit were dismissed or withdrawn by EEOC, primarily due to lack of evidence.
In another case an Atlanta magistrate judge refused to enforce an EEOC subpoena against a Georgia nursing home firm which allegedly retaliated and discriminated against home-health aides because they were disabled, older, black or had a pre-existing genetic condition. The judge called the EEOC’s actions a “misuse of authority” and indicated that the EEOC conducted an inappropriate raid of the company. The magistrate pointed out that one claimant was not disabled, was under age 40, was Caucasian and had no pre-existing genetic conditions.
The lesson for employers from these EEOC failures is that when the EEOC comes calling they should not automatically settle. Rather, employers should consult with qualified attorneys to determine whether the EEOC does in fact have a legitimate claim. If not, employers should give serious consideration to fighting the EEOC in court. The outcome could be surprisingly positive.