You may have experience dealing with anti-discrimination agencies. The federal EEOC essentially exists to prevent lawsuits by independently investigating discrimination claims and then trying to settle as many disputes as possible. (The same is true of similar state and local agencies.)
Not surprisingly, the EEOC and its sister agencies often come to believe a discrimination problem exists and then urge employers to settle. Know that you don’t have to agree to settle.
Turning down a settlement offer does increase the risk that the EEOC will sue you on behalf of the employee. But in reality, that rarely happens. Instead, it usually issues a “right to sue” letter, which gives the employee 90 days to file a lawsuit. Some employees will, while others will let the matter drop.
If you are convinced your company didn’t discriminate, hang tough and rest assured that the agency’s conclusion that you might have discriminated doesn’t hold much weight in court. The employee still has to prove that was the case.
Recent case: Robert Mulcahy, who was 69 years old and the longest-serving employee at Houston Community College, was fired from his job as the college operations officer.
He had been responsible for facilities and approved the reroofing of a rented building. It turned out that the lease specified that the owner was responsible for roof repairs. Mulcahy’s actions meant the college paid almost $700,000 in repair bills that it technically wasn’t responsible for.
After an investigation, the college concluded Mulcahy hadn’t done his job and fired him.
Mulcahy went to the EEOC and charged age discrimination. The agency did its own informal investigation and concluded there was reason to believe the college had acted based on age discrimination. It urged the parties to settle, which the college refused to do.
Mulcahy then sued and tried to persuade the court that—because the EEOC had sided with him against the college—the case should go to a jury. The court rejected that argument and dismissed the case because it couldn’t find any evidence that the discharge was based on age. (Mulcahy v. Houston Community College, et al., No. H-07-1913, SD TX, 2009)
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