In EEOC hearings, employers get a chance to defend their actions, and the agency often concludes that the employer did no wrong. But what about instances when the agency sides with the employee? Should you immediately accept defeat and settle the case?
Not if you’re settling because you’re worried that the EEOC decision might become part of a federal lawsuit. Courts are reluctant to let juries see an EEOC opinion since juries consider some of the same facts that the agency looked at. The EEOC decision doesn’t have to become part of the case.
Recent case: Eliberto Guerra had worked at the Northeast Independent School District for more than 30 years when he applied for a promotion to foreman. He didn’t get the job and immediately suspected age discrimination.
Guerra filed an EEOC complaint. When the EEOC investigator wanted to dismiss the case with just the standard 90-day, right-to-sue letter, Guerra called for backup—he complained to a member of Congress. Apparently that was enough to get the EEOC to reverse itself and issue a decision that said the school district had discriminated against Guerra because of his age.
Then Guerra brought out the big guns, filing a lawsuit under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. But then he started losing battles. First, the judge refused to allow him to introduce the EEOC decision. Then the jury ruled that no age discrimination had taken place.
Guerra appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the EEOC decision should have been allowed in as evidence. Not so, ruled the court. It was up to the jury to decide the case, and the EEOC decision might have unfairly influenced its thinking. The court dismissed the case. (Guerra v. Northeast Independent School District, No. 06-50488, 5th Cir., 2007)