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EEOC discrimination letter? It’s not the final word

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

The EEOC is the first stop in a Title VII discrimination case, but not the last. Often, the agency will say there’s no case. Sometimes, however, it will issue a letter stating “determination that discrimination took place.” But that decision is by no means final. When the case goes to federal court, judges are free to ignore the EEOC’s determination.

Recent case: Bachir Mihoubi, who is a Muslim of Algerian descent, went to work for the Caribou Coffee Company, which is largely owned by a Bahrain-based investment group. Mihoubi worked on franchise plans for the company’s expansion.

Within a few months, his American supervisors began complaining about his work. They also allegedly made disparaging remarks about Muslims and “couldn’t wait” until the company went public and lost its Muslim owners.

When Mihoubi was fired, he filed an EEOC complaint alleging race and religious discrimination. The agency agreed with Mihoubi and issued a discrimination determination.

The case went to federal court, where the judge ruled that the American supervisors’ behavior wasn’t severe enough to constitute harassment or discrimination. The judge said that the EEOC performed only a limited review, and that federal courts can and should reject its findings when the evidence warrants. (Mihoubi v. Caribou Coffee Company, 1:05-CV-2441, ND GA, 2007)

Final note: It’s a good idea to avoid all comments on religion, race and national origin. Although the employer won, it could have avoided a lawsuit altogether if supervisors had kept quiet.

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