Over the last couple of years, the EEOC has made it harder for employers to discriminate against job applicants with criminal pasts. With the promise of protection, more workers have come forward with complaints of discrimination… everything from age discrimination to issues regarding past criminal records. On the surface, that’s how the new regulations presented by the EEOC in 2012 were meant to work.
But then the Commission started filing lawsuit after lawsuit, forcing companies of all sizes to defend themselves. Obviously, having the federal government knocking on your door is intimidating, but two years into these regulations, it seems the Commission’s lawsuits are often not only over-zealous, but down right sloppy.
Over the last year and a half, the EEOC has suffered several high-profile losses, and is being accused by attorneys in the private sector of conducting overreaching and open-ended investigations, instead of focusing on the individual charges of discrimination. The numbers show the Commission is filing fewer suits, but there is still plenty of money flowing into and out of the EEOC.
Several judges across the country have found for the defendants in these cases. An Iowa judge ordered the EEOC to pay $4.7 million in attorneys’ fees and court costs to a CRST Van Expedited Inc. after a lawsuit accused the company of failing to protect hundreds of female employees from sexual harassment.
In the summer of 2013, a judge ripped an EEOC case to shreds, calling the work shoddy, and saying much of the statistical analysis seemed “fudged.”
In another case, an Atlanta magistrate judge refused to enforce a subpoena against a Georgia nursing company. The company was accused of discriminating against home health aides who were black, disabled or had pre-existing genetic conditions. The judge accused the EEOC of conducting an FBI-like raid on the company… even though the complaint they received was filed by a worker who, “is not disabled, is under the age of 40, has no pre-existing genetic conditions and is Caucasian.”
The general counsel for the EEOC points out that there have been some very big wins on the Commission’s side. For example, Hill Country Farms paid $1.6 million after a jury decided the company subjected 32 “intellectually disabled” workers to lower pay and abuse. And last year the EEOC won $675,000 for a RadioShack manager who was fired after filing an age discrimination complaint.
The bottom line seems to be that both sides have reason to complain. The EEOC does find and fix discrimination problems, but employers do have a valid argument about over-zealous prosecution.
The one big take-away for employers is that the EEOC is not infallible. Too often, fear leads companies to automatically settle. Remember to always talk to your attorney before making any snap decisions.
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