The EEOC doesn’t often sue on behalf of employees. Instead, it generally relies on private attorneys to file lawsuits.
When the EEOC does sue, it’s usually because it has spotted what it believes is a case of widespread discrimination. In those situations, the commission often tries to expand the case to include all employees that may have experienced discrimination.
Faced with a possible class-action suit, it may make sense for employers to settle.
Recent case: JPMorgan Chase employee Aimee Doneyhue filed an EEOC complaint alleging that her male supervisor had taken lucrative work from her and given it to favored men.
The EEOC investigated and offered to settle for $300,000. JPMorgan declined.
When the commission sued, it demanded records far beyond those involving Doneyhue and other women working for the same man. JPMorgan protested, but the court said the EEOC was free to seek out information that might show more widespread discrimination.
That means JPMorgan now faces liability that could cost far more than the original settlement offer. (EEOC v. JPMorgan Chase, No. 2:09-CV-864, SD OH, 2010)
Final note: When the EEOC decides to investigate, it usually looks for signs that discrimination is systemic. It can demand records that may show a widespread pattern of discrimination, perhaps even on a national scale. That’s how a case that starts with one employee can easily mushroom into a multimillion-dollar case.