Chamber Renews Assault on EEOC

ProstrationIt is hard to believe but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has accused the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of overreaching in enforcing our nation’s employment discrimination laws.  Hard to believe because the opposite is true.

Due to budget and staff cuts, the EEOC is litigating the fewest number of cases in modern history –148 in 2013 compared to 314 in 2009 and 416 in 2005. The EEOC has practically ignored the epidemic of age discrimination that has persisted since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. The EEOC received 21,396 complaints of age discrimination in 2013 but filed only seven lawsuits that year with claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

All of this makes it supremely ironic that the Chamber, which describes itself as “Standing Up for American Enterprise,” is urging the Congress to  treat the EEOC as if  it is a rogue agency that is bent on crushing the last vestiges of free enterprise in America. [Read more…]

Shift Expected on Pregnancy Accommodation

Should employers treat pregnant employees who suffer temporary disabilities the same way they treat other employees with temporary disabilities?

Yes, says the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General.

However, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr,  says most federal appellate courts who have addressed the issue have decided it incorrectly by holding that employers do not have to accommodate pregnant workers who suffer temporary pregnancy-related disabilities.

Verrilli nevertheless recently recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court decline to review a case in which Peggy Young, a  United Parcel Service driver, was denied “light duty” work when she was pregnant, despite a  doctor’s note stating she should not lift more than 20 pounds during the first half of her pregnancy and not more than 10 pounds for the second half.

Verrilli said two developments may prompt courts to re-assess the issue of pregnancy accommodation. He said the  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is “currently considering the adoption of new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination.”  He also said 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act  cover a broader scope of impairments.  Pregnant workers who can’t get protection under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) may have better luck with the ADA, he said . [Read more…]

Employment Discrimination Lawsuits Down

Are hostile  judges and institutional barriers that limit access to justice for the poor and middle class suppressing the number of  employment discrimination lawsuits filed in our nation’s courts?

According to the 2014 issue of the Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, class action employment discrimination filings declined by about 14 percent in 2013. There were a total of 12,311 lawsuits in 2013, compared to 14,260 in 2012.

A survey by the American Bar Foundation in 2012 found that 75 percent of complainants feel the federal court’s handling of their discrimination lawsuit is profoundly unfair. Complainants said that either the whole legal system or specific aspects of it are biased against victims. They complained  about institutional barriers, such as the difficulty in securing a competent attorney.  See Berrey, Ellen C., et al., Situated Justice: A Contextual Analysis of Fairness and Inequality in Employment Discrimination Litigation,” 46 Law & Society Review 1,  pp. 1-36)(2012).

The class action litigation report, produced by the corporate law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, states the ten largest employment discrimination class action cases in 2013 resulted in a total of $234.1 million in damages.  If one particularly large settlement of $160 million  was factored out, the 2013 total would be the second lowest since 2006. The   $160 million  settlement came in the case of McReynolds, et al. v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Case No. 05-CV-6583 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 6, 2013), a class action lawsuit brought  by African American employees alleging unfair pay and promotions.

The biggest settlements in 2013 involved nationwide classes and included six gender, two race, and one disability related discrimination class action.

The total amount of damages in employment discrimination cases for each year are as follows:

  • 2012 – $48.6 million;
  • 2011 – $123.2 million;
  •  2010 – $346.4 million;
  • 2009 – $86.2 million;
  •  2008 – $118.36 million;
  •  2007 – $282.1 million; and
  •  2006 – $91 million.

The report states there may be a significant jump in employment discrimination cases in 2014 because the number of complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011 and 2012 were the highest in the 48-year history of the Commission.  These complaints are now ripe for litigation.

 

Appeals Ct Sides with EEOC in Conciliation Dispute

A federal appeals court in Chicago has departed from several other federal circuits by ruling that judicial review is not appropriate over efforts by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  to settle employment discrimination complaints.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act directs the EEOC  to try to negotiate an end to an employer’s unlawful employment practices before it seeks a judicial remedy but it does not require the EEOC to actually reach a settlement.

Nevertheless, several federal appeals courts have allowed employers to raise an affirmative defense in employment discrimination cases that the EEOC failed to engage in good faith settlement negotiations  prior to filing a lawsuit. This is referred to as a “failure-to-conciliate” defense.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago ruled last week that an implied failure-to-conciliate defense would add an “unwarranted mechanism” in Title VII by which employers could avoid liability for unlawful discrimination. “They can do so through protracted and ultimately pointless litigation over whether the EEOC tried hard enough to settle,” said the panel.

In addition, the panel said, the implied failure-to-conciliate defense runs “flatly contrary to the broad statutory prohibition on using what was said and done during the conciliation process  ‘as evidence in a subsequent proceeding.’”

Six other federal circuits – the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits –  allow some form of judicial review over the sufficiency or good faith of the EEOC’s conciliation efforts.

The 7th Circuit ruling came in a 2008 sex discrimination case filed against Mach Mining, which  allegedly refused to hire female applicants  for coal mining jobs. After investigating, the EEOC found there was reasonable cause to believe Mach had discriminated against a class of female job applicants at its Johnston City site. The EEOC engaged in informal conciliation with Mach but in 2011 the EEOC concluded the parties could not agree and filed a lawsuit.

Mach argued the suit should be dismissed because the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith.  The EEOC did not contend that its efforts were either sincere or reasonable, only that they were not reviewable as a defense to unlawful discrimination.

The 7th Circuit panel said the U.S. Congress gave the EEOC broad discretion to negotiate as it sees fit, including the power to accept or reject any offer or proposed settlement for any reason.  “Nor can Mach Mining explain just how many offers, counteroffers, conferences, or phone calls should be necessary to satisfy judicial review, despite repeated invitations to provide the court with a workable standard,” it added.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief in the case arguing that it was necessary to keep the EEOC on a tight leash to avoid “agency shenanigans” but the 7th Circuit panel noted the EEOC  filed only 122 merit lawsuits in 2012.  “That so few unsuccessful efforts at conciliation end up in court shows how constrained the agency is by practical limits of budget and personnel,” said the appeals court.

The panel remanded the case, EEOC v. Mach Mining, No. 13-2456,  to the lower court for further proceedings.

In brutally harsh decision last fall in  EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc.,  Chief Judge Linda R. Reade of the U.S. District Court of Iowa ruled  that the  EEOC  must pay CRST, one of the nation’s leading transport companies,  a judgment of $4,694,422.14  stemming from a lawsuit filed by the EEOC alleging sex discrimination.  Judge Reade dismissed at least 67 class members from that case because the EEOC’s allegedly failed to conciliate with CRST with respect to each individual class member.