The EEOC enforces federal laws which make it illegal to discriminate against job applicants and employees in protected categories including race, color, gender, pregnancy, national origin, age, or disability. The EEOC’s authority extends to all work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages and benefits. Working through 53 field offices, the EEOC educates employers on ways to avoid discrimination; investigates charges of discrimination, makes a finding, tries and settles the charge or files a lawsuit to protect the rights of the individual and the interest of the public.
Source: EEOC’sEnforcement&Litigation Statistics – www.eeoc.gov
Given this agenda, it is no wonder that employers were scrambling desperately to stay clear of the EEOC’s scanner. Admittedly, it is not a walk in the park to stay within the boundaries set by the EEOC, never compromising on conducting reliable background checks and other verifications; and always walking the tight rope of compliance. Until last week, that is.
Recent developments have made the EEOC find itself on the receiving end of discrimination claims, with a Michigan district court finding for Peoplemark, Inc in a suit filed by the EEOC. Peoplemark was awarded nearly $750,000 in attorney fees and costs, marking one of the largest sanctions against the EEOC so far. The EEOC has appealed the sanction, resulting in three large trade groups, representing millions of businesses, filing an amicus brief to join the fray and further to strengthen the case against the EEOC, for its methods of enforcement!
The industry groups, which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the Equal Employment Advisory Council, placed before the court their displeasure with the way the EEOC enforces charges without supporting evidence or statistical data and tends to ignore contradictory information. They further claimed that such actions tend to result in tremendous inconvenience to both employers and employees. The fact that these groups have decided to come together and actively support the enforcement of the sanction against the EEOC is in itself a telling commentary on the unpopular methods of the EEOC.
The EEOC has recently faced sanctions in other cases. In EEOC v. Tricore,the employer was charged with violating the ADA. Tricore demonstrated to the court that it had tried to accommodate the employee’s disability by placing her in a different role but, she was unable to perform in a satisfactory manner; resulting in the severance. The case was judged in favor of the employer; while the employer charged the EEOC with making claims which were ‘frivolous, unreasonable and without foundation’.
The role of the EEOC is an important one. Workers and employers in the United States look to the agency to ensure fair and consistent compliance with the laws intended to protect everyone’s interest. It appears that a close examination of its investigative and enforcement methods will enable the agency to more effectively fulfil its mandate in a positive and effective manner.
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