EEOC employee complaint investigation overstepped its bounds

by on May 4, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Great news for employers faced with EEOC employee complaint investigations

You don’t have to submit to bullying by the employment law watchdog. A federal appeals court has just slapped the EEOC’s hand for abandoning its role as a neutral investigator and trying to force an expensive settlement on an employer.

NO SWEAT

The case involved a worker in Mississippi who sued for disability discrimination. The man, who had a rare condition that prevented him from sweating, refused to carry out an ordered task because he feared he would overheat and get sick. He was fired.

The EEOC employee complaint investigation found for the worker and claimed no effort was made to accommodate . The EEOC demanded the employer reinstate him and give him $155,000 in back pay, medical costs and compensatory damages. When the employer did not, the EEOC sued for $250,000. The federal courts ruled for the company. The appeals court pointed out that the employer had consistently accommodated the employee by letting him take breaks when it got hot.

Worse, the court said, the EEOC investigator made key errors in reporting the facts. The agency also failed to attempt good-faith conciliation, and ignored communications from the employer – including one offering a $3,500 settlement.

Keys for HR
If you have to face an EEOC inquiry, huddle with your lawyer and do two things:

  1. Respond promptly to each communication from the agency.
  2. Make reasonable counterproposals even to unreasonable demands.

The courts will back you up if you act in good faith and the agency doesn’t.

Cite: EEOC v. Agro Distribution, No. 07-60447, 5th Cir., 1/15/09.

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