It’s not often that the EEOC loses a lawsuit, but in recent weeks, the gavel has come down against the commission not once, but twice.
In separate cases, judges slammed the EEOC for abusing its discretion to bring harassment charges and threw cold water on its recent crackdown on pre-hiring criminal background checks. These weren’t ordinary slaps on the wrist.
On Aug. 2, a federal judge in Iowa ended a long-running string of sexual harassment lawsuits by ordering the EEOC to cough up $4.7 million to repay an employer’s legal costs. It’s the largest fee sanction award against the EEOC in its history.
A week later, a court in Maryland summarily dismissed a high-profile EEOC lawsuit that alleged an employer’s background checks were discriminatory. The judge called parts of the EEOC’s case “laughable” and said following itsstance would “condemn the use of common sense.”
Judge to EEOC: Pay up
The first case pitted national trucking company CRST against an array of former employees who in 2007 complained that bosses and trainers had sexually harassed them. The EEOC took up their cases.
One problem: Almost all of them turned out to be baseless.
CRST settled one case for $50,000, but then the EEOC filed a “pattern and practice” claim, essentially accusing the company of regularly condoning harassment.
For six years, CRST racked up legal bills defending the suits.
Finally, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade ruled that the EEOC pursuit of the cases had become abusive. She noted that 153 of the commission’s charges were “unreasonable or groundless.” More than 100 other claims were dismissed or withdrawn by the EEOC.
Then Reade ordered the EEOC to pay $4.7 million to cover CRST’s legal fees. (EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, No. 07-CV-95-LRR, ND IA, 2013)
EEOC’s ‘scientific dishonesty’
The criminal background check case involved Freeman Co., a conferencefirm. The EEOC sued in 2009, claiming Freeman’s criminal background checks had a disparate impact on blacks, Hispanics and men.
Freeman consistently maintained that its background checks were “job related and of business necessity” as the law requires. Plus, it argued that the EEOC had failed to prove that the checks disproportionately affected protected classes.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Titus agreed and dismissed the EEOC’s lawsuit. He blasted the EEOC’s method of gathering data on disparate impact, which he called “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.”
He went on to say that “something more, far more than what is relied upon by the EEOC in this case must be utilized to justify a disparate impact claim.” (EEOC v. Freeman, No. RWT 09cv2573, DC MD, 2013)
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