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Workers can file EEOC claims, even if covered by arbitration pact

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Don't ask employees to sign away their rights, as part of a settlement agreement or lawsuit waiver, to file a discrimination claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commis-sion (EEOC) or a related state agency. And don't try to stop workers from filing cases with the EEOC or state agency.

The EEOC is increasingly flexing its muscle to protect its right to investigate charges of discrimination, even if the employee filing the charge signed an arbitration pact.

Recent case: A grocery store employee filed a discrimination charge with a state human rights agency. The grocery chain then sued to prevent the worker from pursuing her charge, arguing that she was subject to an arbitration agreement and must first try to arbitrate her dispute. But the EEOC stepped in and won an injunction from a district court that prevented the grocery chain from halting the lawsuit.

Reason: Several other courts have agreed that employees have a right to file discrimination charges even if they're subject to arbitration agreements. And the EEOC has the right to investigate charges.

The court said a lawsuit trying to silence workers, like the one filed by the grocery store, would "have a serious chilling effect on the many employees who currently work under an arbitration agreement. (EEOC v. Ralph's Grocery Co., No. CV-03 C 8927, N.D. Ill., 2004)

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