Dark Money in the Federal Courts and the EEOC

So-called “dark money” groups have reported  spending more than $800 million on campaign-related activities between January 2010 and December 2016, the last full election cycle.

The top spender on the Federal Elections Commission’s list was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a conservative, profit-making group that laundered $130 million for … who knows?

While dark money is widely associated with political campaigns, including judicial campaigns, it also influences the machinations of federal courts and has reached the front lines of worker rights at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).

Dark money is money  collected by a front or middle-man organization, usually with a vaguely positive sounding name, that is distributed to influence public policy. The source of the money is anonymous so the public is clueless about the donor’s intentions.  The U.S. Supreme Court legalized dark money in Citizens United v. FEC (2010).

Dark money strips workers of  justice in federal courts and at the EEOC.

Continue reading “Dark Money in the Federal Courts and the EEOC”

The EEOC’s Surprising New Fan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

After years of criticism, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  is now applauding the EEOC for focusing on “compliance assistance” rather than enforcement and litigation.

Randel K. Johnson, a senior vice president of the Chamber, “commends” the EEOC for “identifying efforts to focus resources on compliance assistance” in a letter submitted to the EEOC in connection with a draft of the EEOC’s proposed new strategic plan for 2018-2022. The Chamber is a conservative, profit-making group that lobbies the legislature and federal courts on behalf of business interests. It consistently opposes pro-labor measures.

The EEOC  is seeking comment on a draft of its proposed strategic plan until 5 p.m .ET on January 8, 2018.  To weigh in, go here or to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EEOC-2017-0005-0001.

In the letter, Johnson refers to the Chamber’s 2014 report to Congress in which the Chamber criticized the EEOC for  “enforcement and litigation abuses.” The Chamber’s report came at a time when the EEOC was litigating the fewest number of cases in modern history and had completely ignored a major increase in age discrimination cases during and since the Great Recession.  In 2013, the EEOC had  filed 147 lawsuits, compared to 416 in 2005.  But the Chamber’s report was an effective public relations ploy and seems to have had a big impact on the EEOC, which reduced its litigation efforts even further.  The EEOC filed only 114 lawsuits in 2016 (of which only TWO contained age discrimination claims). Continue reading “The EEOC’s Surprising New Fan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce”

Discrimination Victims Deserve REAL Justice

The EEOC has asked for public input so here goes:

Why is the EEOC operating the equivalent of a “get out of jail free card” for employers that engage in employment discrimination and retaliation?

When the EEOC determines there is reasonable cause for a charge of discrimination, the agency offers the employer (and the victim) the opportunity to participate in its free mediation program, where a neutral mediator assists the parties in reaching an early and confidential  resolution to a charge of discrimination.

In its 2014 performance report, the EEOC contends the mediation program is a “win for both Employees and Employers” but in the final analysis it is a much bigger win for employers.

The EEOC says its mediation program for private sector complainants  achieved a resolution in 7,846 out of a total of 10,221 mediations conducted for all types of discrimination.  The effort yielded $144.6 million in monetary benefits for complainants. Simple division indicates the EEOC’s mediation effort yielded $18,430 per mediation for private sector workers in 2014.

A payout of less than $20,000 per mediation is a bona fide windfall for employers, who might otherwise be forced to spend a hundred thousands dollars or more to defend a lawsuit, plus a potentially staggering damages award.

But $20,000 is a pittance at best for many – if not most – victims of employment discrimination – especially those who lost their jobs or who were not hired because of illegal discrimination.

There’s the rub

The EEOC is not supposed to be in the business of protecting discriminatory employers from the reasonable consequences of their harmful actions. Continue reading “Discrimination Victims Deserve REAL Justice”

The Considerable Downside of Mediation for Discrimination Victims

Mediation is a really good deal for employers but what about workers? Not so much.

In its 2014 performance report,  the EEOC states that its mediation program for private sector complainants achieved a resolution in 7,846 out of a total of 10,221 mediations conducted for all types of discrimination. Mediation is a voluntary process where a neutral mediator assists the employer and employee in reaching an early and confidential resolution of the employment dispute raised in a charge of discrimination.  The  effort yielded  $144.6 million in monetary benefits for complainants. Simple division indicates the EEOC’s mediation effort yielded $18,430 per mediation for private sector workers in 2014.

UPHere are some of the many ways that employers benefit from the EEOC’s mediation program:

  • Thanks to the generosity of the American taxpayer, it doesn’t cost employers anything to use this form of alternate dispute resolution. The EEOC doesn’t charge the complainant either but the complainant often has no money because s/he is the victim of illegal discrimination. There’s a difference.
  • The employer  usually has a major advantage because it is  represented by an experienced attorney while the complainant often can’t afford to hire an attorney and his or her only knowledge about  the legal process is derived from television shows like Law and Order.
    • A settlement costs the employer practically nothing compared to the cost of responding to an EEOC investigation and then litigating a lawsuit , which would likely exceed $100,000. If the employer loses the case,  add on damages and  the plaintiff’s attorney fees.
    •  No one has to know! It’s all secret.

What’s the down side of mediation for the employer? There aren’t any. Even if the employer fails to achieve a settlement, the employer gains valuable information about the complainant’s case, including his or her evidence, whether the complainant is or will be represented by counsel, and whether the complainant has been so emotionally damaged by discrimination that s/he would be a poor witness in front of a jury. Continue reading “The Considerable Downside of Mediation for Discrimination Victims”

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.

Retaliation

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.