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. Continue reading “Chamber Renews Assault on EEOC”

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 . Continue reading “Shift Expected on Pregnancy Accommodation”

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.

Older Workers: Ruby Tuesday is Hiring!

Yesterday don’t matter when it’s gone?

It does to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The restaurant chain, Ruby Tuesday, Inc., named after the classic Rolling Stone song, has agreed to pay $575,000 to settle a  class age discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court in Pennsylvania by the EEOC in 2009 against six of the chain’s restaurants. (EEOC v. Ruby Tuesday, Inc., Civil Action No. 09-1330).

Perhaps more significantly,  the consent decree signed by Ruby Tuesday contains an unusually detailed and comprehensive multi-year plan that requires Ruby Tuesday to recruit and hire older workers.

The EEOC lawsuit charged that Ruby Tuesday violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) by discriminating against job applicants who were 40 years of age or older at six of the chain’s restaurants located in West Mifflin, Greensburg, Altoona, Du Bois, and Indiana, Pa., and in Beachwood, Ohio.

Ruby Tuesday also allegedly failed to preserve employment records, including employment applications, as required by the ADEA and EEOC regulations.

The equitable relief outlined in the three-and-one-half year consent decree requires Ruby Tuesday to:

  • Implement numerical goals for hiring and recruitment of job applicants age 40 and older at the affected locations;
  • Review its job advertisements to make certain they do not violate the ADEA;
  • Conduct audits, including random reviews of hiring decisions, to ensure non-discrimination and compliance with the  consent decree;
  • Evaluate the job performance of people with hiring authority for the six stores named in the consent decree and set their compensation (including bonuses), in part, based on their degree of success in helping Ruby Tuesday ensure that its recruitment and hiring practices provide equal employment opportunities for people who are 40 or older;
  • Designate a decree compliance monitor for oversight of compliance with the requirements of the ADEA and the terms of the consent decree;
  • Provide extensive training on the requirements of the ADEA and the consent decree to the decree compliance monitor, human resources personnel and hiring authorities of the six stores named in the consent decree; and
  • Report to the EEOC and keep records about its hiring practices and compliance with the consent decree.

Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said “the extensive training and equitable measures are designed to improve recruitment and hiring of older workers and protect all applicants from age discrimination.”

According to its website,, Ruby Tuesday, Inc. has nearly 800 company-owned and franchised restaurants and more than 40,000 corporate and franchise team members.

“Lose your dreams
And you will lose your mind.
Ain’t life unkind?
Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday”

EEOC to Examine National Origin Discrimination

EEOCAn aspect of discrimination law that is gaining increasing attention is, not surprisingly, national origin discrimination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)will meet on Nov. 13 in Washington, DC, to examine issues and hear testimony related to the problem of national origin discrimination.

The backdrop of the EEOC’s meeting is impending immigration reform and the rise in the percentage of foreign-born workers in the U.S. workforce.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May that there are 25 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force, making up 16.1 percent of the total workforce. Hispanics accounted for 48.3 percent of the foreign-born labor force in 2012 and Asians accounted for 23.7 percent. The BLS reports that  the proportion of the foreign-born labor force made up of 25 – 54 year olds (75.6 percent) is now higher than for the native-born labor force (63.4 percent).

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  and EEOC rules “national origin” discrimination includes the denial of equal employment opportunity because of an individual’s place of origin, their ancestor’s place of origin,  or because of the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.

Counsel for employers, in written testimony submitted to the EEOC, describe the enormous challenges faced by employers in tackling discrimination issues involving foreign-born workers.

Douglas J. Farmer, of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, writes that  many foreign-born workers have little or no understanding of basic legal prohibitions on discrimination or harassment, have never seen an anti-harassment policy, and have never participated in anti-harassment training.  In one workplace, he states, an employer was confronted with a workforce in which workers spoke 60 different languages and dialects.

“Several of our employer clients have expressed concern that employer cost and lack of technical expertise present significant obstacles to the translation and effective implementation of policies and training programs,” Farmer writes.

He urged the EEOC to make anti-discrimination and harassment policies and educational programs available in multiple languages  to help employers convey these concepts to foreign-born employees in a cost-effective manner.

Rebecca  Smith, Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), urges the EEOC to address  “second-generation discrimination” practices that involve cultural attributes (language, accent) as well as stereotypes associated with a particular national origin or ethnic group. She said this form of discrimination can be seen in discriminatory recruitment practices and occupational segregation by ethnicity or national origin   For example, a restaurant may employ an Hispanic worker as a dishwasher but not as a server because of his or her accent.

Smith also said some unscrupulous American employers are using labor recruiters from the source country that are notorious for discrimination to handle the hiring of foreign-born workers, while arguing that they are not responsible for labor violations committed by their recruiters. In this way, Smith writes, the employer can shift labor costs and liabilities to the smaller entity, which is often an undercapitalized firm that cannot satisfy potential judgments against it

Smith also writes that harassment and threats of deportation are “almost standard operating procedure” in some guestworker-dominated work sites

NELP estimates that eight million undocumented workers form 5.2 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times but no union representative is slated to testify before the EEOC at the hearing.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act: 35 Years Later

No Accommodation Requirement

Thirty five years ago this week, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA).

The PDA,  an amendment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, has proven to be a weak tool to combat  a major societal problem;  It  requires employers to treat pregnant women like others in the workplace but  it does not require employers to make even minimal accommEEOCodation for pregnancy-related conditions  (such as difficulties standing for long period, lifting restrictions, insufficient bathroom breaks, etc.).

Efforts last year to address the PDA’s shortcomings died in the U.S. Congress but the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in its 2013-2016 strategic plan  identified combating pregnancy discrimination as a top priority. The EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing the PDA, characterizes the problem as an “emerging and developing” issue. Specifically, the EEOC said it would address the problem of “accommodating pregnancy-related limitations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act and the PDA.

The EEOC and Fair Employment Practice Agencies around the country reported 5,797 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2011.

True to its word, the EEOC has filed a spate of lawsuits this year to combat pregnancy discrimination. Most, if not all,  of these lawsuits involve individual defendants and somewhat minor settlements but the EEOC’s effort raises awareness of the problem and, hopefully, puts employers on notice that they are being watched.

 Lawsuits Filed

Here is a sampling of the lawsuits filed this year by the EEOC involving the PDA:

  •  EEOC v. Reed Pierce’s Sportsman’ Grille:  A woman who was four months pregnant with her first child was fired because, her supervisor allegedly said, “The baby is taking its toll on you.”  The EEOC  filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  After the defendant lost two motions to dismiss the case, it settled for $20,000.
  • EEOC v. Ramin, Inc.:   Ramin Inc., the owner of a Comfort Inn & Suites, allegedly fired a  housekeeper after she reported her pregnancy because of supposed concerns about potential harm that her job could cause the baby.  The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The defendant agreed to pay $2,500 in back pay and $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
  • EEOC v. Engineering Documentation Systems, Inc.:  A management official allegedly made derogatory remarks about a pregnant worker and  refused her request to move her office closer to the restroom to accommodate her nausea.  While she was out on leave, the company changed her job description and then terminated her.  The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The defendant agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the case.
  • EEOC v. James E. Brown & Associates, PLLC:  A  Washington based law firm offered Zorayda J. Moreira-Smith a position as an associate attorney in January 2011.  The firm allegedly rescinded its job offer  the same day after when Moreira-Smith told them she was six months pregnant and asked the firm about its maternity leave policies.  The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The defendant agreed to pay an $18,000 settlement,  to implement a non-discrimination policy and  to provide training to the firm’s personnel.
  • EEOC v. Platinum P.T.S. Inc. D/B/A/ Platinum Production Testing Services:  A clerk  requested time off for medical treatment relating to her miscarriage.  After she missed five days of work,  the defendant fired her.  The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The defendant agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the pregnancy discrimination suit.

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, Jr., of Pennsylvania proposed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in 2012 to guarantee pregnant women the right to reasonable accommodation when the short-term physical effects of pregnancy conflict with the demands of a particular job, as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. The bill died in committee.

EEOC Defends Criminal Background Checks

They’re Permitted Unless …

The EEOC has been slammed in recent weeks for filing discrimination lawsuits against employers who used criminal background checks to assess job applicants that resulted in the disproportionate exclusion of minority group members.

A feEEOCderal judge ridiculed the EEOC in August for a seeming double standard, noting the EEOC itself uses criminal background checks with respect to hiring employees at the EEOC.

Jacqueline A. Berrien, chairperson of the EEOC, recently responded to a July 24,2013 letter from nine state Attorney Generals asking the EEOC to reconsider its April 25, 2012 Enforcement Guidance, Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

She said the Guidance merely clarifies and updates a longstanding EEOC policy and does not prohibit employers from using criminal background checks in hiring.

She said an employer can be held liable for discrimination if it “uniformly administers a criminal background check that disproportionately excludes people of a particular race, national origin, or other protected characteristic, and is not ‘job related for the position(s) in question and consistent with business necessity’ within the meaning of Title VII. However, she said employers can avoid liability by using the EEOC’s recommended two-step process when evaluating criminal history checks of applicants. The EEOC recommends that employers:

1. Use a ‘targeted’ screen of criminal records that considers such factors as the nature of the crime, the time elapsed and the nature of the job.

2. Use a follow-up individualized assessment of employees who are screened out to ensure the employer is “not mistakenly screening out qualified applicants or employees based on incorrect, incomplete, or irrelevant information.” The second step also gives individuals a chance to correct errors in their records.

Berrien said the EEOC’s proposed individualized assessment process does not add significant additional costs for employers.

She said an employer does not have to conduct an individualized assessment “if it can demonstrate that its targeted screen is always job related and consistent with business necessity.”  She called the individualized assessment “a safeguard that can help an employer to avoid liability when it cannot demonstrate that using only its targeted screen would always be job related and consistent with business necessity.”

In August, Judge Roger Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed a lawsuit brought by the EEOC in 2009 against Freeman, Inc., a service provider for corporate events, which alleged Freeman unlawfully relied upon credit and criminal background checks that caused a disparate impact against African-American, Hispanic, and male job applicants. See EEOC v. Freeman, No. 09-CV-2573 (2013).

Titus notes the EEOC conducts criminal background investigations as a condition of employment for all positions and conducts credit background checks on approximately 90 percent of its positions. He acknowledged that credit and criminal background checks adversely affect some groups more than others but maintained that these checks are essential.

Berrien did not address the issue of background checks conducted by the EEOC on its job applicants.

Earlier, Berrien said recent EEOC lawsuits against BMW and Dollar General did not challenge the employers’ decisions to conduct criminal background checks but instead challenged screening processes that have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans that the commission believes are not job related and consistent with business necessity.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that approximately 9 percent of all men will serve time in state or federal prisons, including 28 percent of black males, 16 percent of Hispanic males, and 4 percent of white males.

The Attorney Generals who complained about the EEOC policy are from West Virginia, Colorado, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, South Carolina and Utah.

Judge Whacks EEOC With $4.7 in Fees

Case of Female Truck Drivers Crashes and Burns

It’s easy to forget that EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc. started with a 2005 sex discrimination complaint by a female truck driver trainee, Monika Starke, who said she was sexually harassed  by her two “Lead Trainers.”

 Chief Judge Linda R. Reade of the U.S. District Court of Iowa ruled recently that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must pay CRST, one of the nation’s leading transport companies,  $4,694,422.14 in attorney fees and costs stemming from the case.

Judge Reade’s decision  is brutally unsympathetic to the EEOC and the  255 female trainees and drivers who alleged sex discrimination and harassment against CRST.  She appears to be much more concerned about the supposedly unfair burden the litigation placed on CRST. 

The case began with a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC on behalf of Starke and other similarly situated employees.  

 Court records show that Monika Starke alleged that one of the CRST trainers told her “the gear stick is not the penis of my husband, I don’t have to touch the gear stick so often”  and “You got big tits for your size, etc. . . “  She said she told him she was not interested in a sexual relationship with him and called the CRST dispatcher to complain.   “[I] was told that I could not get off the truck until the next day.”  she said.

 Starke’s other “Lead Trainer”  allegedly forced Starke to have sex with him while traveling from July 18, 2005 through August 3, 2005  “in order to get a passing grade.”

 Starke is described as a German who struggles with English. She and her  husband subsequently hired a lawyer and filed for bankruptcy.  They failed  to mention  the CRST lawsuit, prompting CRST to file a motion to prevent Starke from proceeding against CRST on grounds of judicial estoppel –  a doctrine that is meant to protect the integrity of the court.  Judge Reade granted the motion.

 In fact, Judge Reade granted CRST’s pre-trial motions to dismiss all of the complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination filed by the EEOC against CRST. 

  In a dozen cases, Judge Reade said the complaints were not “severe or pervasive” enough.

  In other cases, Judge Reade said CRST did not have legal (as opposed to real)  notice of the harassment and the “Lead Drivers” – who evaluated the performance of the female trainees – did not fall within the court’s technical definition of  supervisor in that they could not fire the trainees.

 Judge Reade dismissed 67 cases because the EEOC did not attempt to conciliate or negotiate with the CRST to settle the cases –  which appears to be a brand  new requirement that could severely limit the  EEOC in the future. Judge Reade conceded that dismissal was a  “severe” sanction for these complainants.

 The EEOC appealed Judge Reade’s dismissal of the case  to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

Appeals Court

In its decision, the  Eigth Circuit agreed that the “Lead Drivers” are not supervisory employees and that CRST was not vicariously liable for sexual harassment/discrimination committed by these employees.  

 The  appellate court generally agreed that claims by female complainants that they were propositioned for sex by male trainers and drivers were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to support a hostile work environment claim. The Court said an individual must show “more than a few isolated incidents” to support such a claim.  (It was unclear exactly how many times  a worker must be propositioned for sex to qualify as being harassed.)

 However, the appeals court disagreed with the dismissal of the claims of three female plaintiffs and ordered them reinstated. The court also reversed Judge Reade’s earlier grant of attorney fees to CRST in the amount of $4,560,285.11.

One of the three employees whose case was reinstated was Sherry O’Donnell,  who spent  seven days on the road with a male co-driver who asked her on three to five occasions to drive naked;  refused her request to stop at a truck stop so she could go to the bathroom,  ordering her instead to urinate in the parking lot; and, “in a culminating incident grabbed O’Donnell’s face while she was driving and began screaming that ‘all he wanted was a girlfriend.’ Regarding this third incident, O’Donnell testified that Sears grabbed her face so vigorously that it caused one of her teeth to lacerate her lip.”

Her lead trainer began screaming that ‘all he wanted was a girlfriend.’ He grabbed her face so vigorously that he caused one of her teeth to lacerate her lip.

 The other complainant, Tillie Jones, testified that during a two-week training trip, her Lead Driver, wore only underwear in the cab and on several occasions rubbed the back of her head, despite her repeated requests that he stop. He allegedly referred to Jones as  “his bitch” five or six times and, when Jones’s complained about his slovenly habits, ordered Jones to clean up the truck, declaring “that’s what you’re on the truck for, you’re my bitch. I ain’t your bitch. Shut up and clean it up.”  Like many of CRST’s Lead Drivers, Jones said he routinely urinated in plastic bottles and ziplock bags while in transit, leaving  his urine receptacles about the truck’s cab for her to clean up.  

 The appeals court ruled the EEOC established material issues of fact regarding the harassment that O’Donnell and Jones allegedly suffered. “We hold that the district court erred in concluding, as a matter of law, that the harassment they suffered was insufficiently severe or pervasive,” the court said.

 Finally, the Court rejected Judge Reade’s finding that the EEOC itself was barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel from proceeding on Monika Starke’s behalf, noting the EEOC had not misrepresented any facts to the court.  That brought Ms. Starke case back into the litigation.

 After the appeals court’s decision, CRST agreed to pay Ms. Starke $50,000 to settle Ms. Starke’s case, which most people would interpret as a victory for Ms. Starke. 

 The EEOC decided it could not proceed with respect to O’Donnell complaint, citing the “law of the case.” This presumably refers to Judge Reade’s ruling that the EEOC was required to directly engage in “conciliation” with CRST on each complaint.  

 Which left Ms. Jones as the sole surviving plaintiff.

Even though  the appeals court ruled in the EEOC’s favor with respect to several issues, Judge Reade ruled CRST was the ‘prevailing party” in the case and was entitled to almost $5 million in fees and costs.

 The final award to CRST is actually larger than the earlier award by Judge because Judge Reade included fees and costs expended by CRST related to the appeal.

 Judge Reade was appointed to the federal court in 2002 after being nominated by President George W. Bush.


Mediation Goes Awry for Worker

After Outburst, He Won’t See Employer in Court

There is a new way for a worker to lose a lawsuit in federal court.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, IL, ruled recently that a worker could be fired for misbehaving during a mediation session called to resolve his complaint of sex discrimination.

Michael Benes had charged his Wisconsin employer, A.B. Data, Ltd. with sexgaveldiscrimination after working for the company for four months.

 The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arranged for mediation in which, after an initial joint session, the parties separated into different rooms and a go-between relayed offers.

Upon receiving a settlement proposal that he thought too low, court papers say Benes “stormed” into the room used by A.B. Data Ltd. representatives, and said loudly: “You can take your proposal and shove it up your ass and fire me and I’ll see you in court.”

The company accepted Benes’ counterproposal but then fired him.


Benes filed suit under the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–3(a), which bans retaliation because a person “has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” [Emphasis supplied].

A magistrate judge upheld Benes’ dismissal, finding that Benes was fired for misconduct during the mediation, not for making or supporting a charge of discrimination.

The appeals court agreed and upheld Benes termination.

In the past, Benes’ misbehavior might have resulted in a sanction by the court or his employer.

Ignores the Employer’s Behavior

An opinion written by Chief Judge Frank A. Easterbrook states – without explanation – that Benes “abandoned” his claim of sex discrimination upon filing the retaliation complaint. This is somewhat baffling in that the original complaint of sex discrimination obviously was the underlying basis for the retaliation complaint.  Benes would never have been engaged in mediation if he had not filed the discrimination complaint. And Benes would not have been fired if he had not engaged in mediation.

The appellate panel proceeded to completely ignore A.B. Data’s  behavior and to focus only upon Benes’ conduct. 

Judge Easterbrook said Benes’ actions constituted a “serious breach” of the mediation protocol, adding, “If A.B. Data would have fired a person who barged into his superior’s office in violation of instructions, and said what Benes did, then it was entitled to fire someone who did the same thing during a mediation.”

The appellate panel said that Title VII does not establish a “privilege to misbehave” in mediation.

Chief Judge Easterbrook writes that the prospect of being fired for an egregious violation of a mediator’s protocols would not discourage a reasonable worker from making a charge of discrimination or from participating in the EEOC’s investigation.

Impact of Harassment

The details of the alleged discrimination suffered by Benes were not included in the appellate decision, nor are the details of the offer submitted by A.B. Data to resolve Benes’ complaint.

Those of us who work in the area of workplace bullying and abuse are familiar with the well-documented mental and physical stress suffered by targets over time, which occasionally results in erratic or self-defeating behavior. For these and other reasons,  mediation is not ideal in these cases.

Benes clearly did himself no favors with his hotheaded behavior. Still, this decision appears to be yet another indicator of the lack of sympathy for the problem of workplace abuse in the federal courts, where, coincidentally,  judges have lifetime tenure.

Research shows that employment discrimination cases are dismissed at a far higher rate than other types of cases in federal courts before they ever reach a jury.

Workers beware – any breach of civility on your part at any point in the proceedings can have severe consequences.