Employers dealing with problem employees often use the so-called last-chance agreements as a tool to get employees back on the straight and narrow.
The case began when chemical manufacturer Cognis Corp. added a clause in its last-chance agreements, forcing employees to give up their rights to sue under federal or state anti-discrimination laws.
Steven Whitlow, an employee at a Cognis plant in Kankakee, signed a last-chance agreement that forfeited his right to file charges against Cognis with any civil rights commission or government authority. Later, Whitlow rescinded his agreement, stating that he did not want to waive his civil rights.
When Cognis terminated him, he filed a complaint with the EEOC.
Now the commission has filed a lawsuit claiming Cognis retaliated against Whitlow for rescinding the agreement, an act that could be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Note: Courts have long recognized an employer’s right to use last-chance agreements to deal with problem employees. Clearly, the EEOC doesn’t think it’s fair to tack on a waiver of an employee’s right to sue.
Federal circuit courts are divided on when and how employees may waive their prospective Title VII rights. Look for a court to take up this case soon.
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