Here’s a bit of good news for employers on the losing end of an EEOC determination that an employee’s discrimination complaint has merit: That determination isn’t the final word—and it doesn’t carry much weight in court.
The employee won’t be able to use the determination to prove bias, and you can probably keep it out of evidence entirely.
Recent case: Marcus Rowe complained to the EEOC that his employer, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, discriminated against him. The commission investigated and attempted to get the parties to arrive at a compromise. When that failed, it provided a written determination stating there was “reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination on the basis of race had occurred.”
Rowe sued, alleging discrimination and included the statement in his pleadings.
Eckerd asked the court to remove the reference because cases filed in federal court after being handled by the EEOC are supposed to start over again. The court agreed and disallowed the statement as evidence. (Rowe v. Eckerd Youth Alternatives, No. 5:10-CV-153, WD NC, 2011)
Final note: The theory works the other way, too. Employers absolved of wrongdoing by the EEOC can’t use the finding in court to prove they didn’t discriminate.
What good is an agency whose decisions aren’t binding or final? In many ways, the EEOC is designed to put the brakes on the litigation train. Often, employer and employee can work something out with the agency’s help, preventing expensive and protracted litigation.
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