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Don’t invite EEOC to fish through your files

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

When dealing with the federal government, sometimes too much compliance can get you in trouble.

What happened? When the Equal Employment Oppor-tunity Commission (EEOC) got a complaint about racial discrimination at a Louisiana-based insurance company, it began an investigation. The company gave the EEOC a list of employees by name, position and race.

After reviewing the gender of those listed, the EEOC suspected the company also may have discriminated against women. The EEOC decided to expand its probe to include sex discrimination.

When the company refused to cough up any more records, the EEOC tried to get a subpoena. But the courts refused to order the company to hand over the records because those documents weren't related to the original charge of race discrimination. (EEOC v. Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co., No. 00-31482, 5th Cir., 2001)

Advice: Stay on your toes when the EEOC comes calling. Stand firm and agree only to stick to relevant information concerning the complaint on the table. In this case, the company could have provided the race information by employee number, which didn't reveal any personal information.

It's important to note that such a victory over the EEOC is rare. The EEOC has far-reaching authority to follow through on an investigation, and it has a strong track record when it asks courts to enforce its subpoenas.

Also, such "piling on" is not unheard of in other employment lawsuits. Lawyers for employees often come up with a new theory of discrimination based on information they learn during an investigation. And witnesses sometimes identify a different form of discrimination than the one they've been called to testify about. Be aware that EEOC charges can be amended to add new grounds, as long as the investigation is open.

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