The EEOC essentially exists to prevent lawsuits by independently investigating discrimination claims and then trying to settle as many disputes as possible. 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.
The U.S. Department of Labor has settled with Triple B Cleaning, a Houston company, that it claims illegally fired an employee who had complained about workplace safety issues to local news media.
Sometimes, one or two stupid comments are all it takes to fuel a lawsuit. Take, for example, talk that could be construed as ageist. It isn’t unusual to hear managers and supervisors throw around the word “dinosaur” or use the term “fresh blood” to describe changes to the workforce. Is it code for age discrimination?
Don’t hesitate to turn an investigation over to an expert from outside the organization when there is any doubt about fairness. Doing so may short-circuit a lawsuit. An independent investigator helps maintain the credibility of the investigation and might be able to spot well-hidden discrimination.
Employees are often quite sophisticated about their legal rights—especially when they suspect their jobs may be on the chopping block. When they think of the lawsuit possibilities, they may even try to set up their employers. One easy way
to get a case going is to blow the whistle on alleged wrongdoing.
If you have a fairly informal job application process, now’s the time to firm it up. The prolonged economic downturn means you’re likely to receive more and more applications. And that means more potential for lawsuits from unsuccessful job seekers.
Nothing is more frustrating than having to spend time and money defending a frivolous lawsuit. But courts are becoming just as frustrated as employers, and are increasingly assessing costs against employees who lose their lawsuits. You can’t get your time back, but at least you can recover some of your money.
A jury recently awarded $900,000 to a former employee of the Texas Commission on Human Rights, which is responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws, for firing her in retaliation for complaining about discrimination against the agency’s own employees.
Remind managers who feel the need to ask employees sensitive questions to do so only in a private setting. Doing otherwise could trigger a defamation lawsuit.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued an opinion letter that says state lawmakers have the authority to enact legislation sanctioning employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers.