Recent EEOC Actions Causing Employers to Go on the Offensive

One Employer Awarded $4.7 Million for “Groundless” Suit; Another Seeks Injunction for EEOC’s Mass E-Mail to its Employees

On August 1, the EEOC was ordered to pay $4.7 million to CRST Van Expedited Inc. (CRST) for attorneys’ fees and expenses for claims the court described as “unreasonable or groundless.”  This fee award resulted out of a “pattern and practice” sexual harassment suit the EEOC brought against the national transportation company in 2007. The EEOC alleged the company subjected around 270 women to a hostile work environment.  CRST fought the claims, and was able to get the majority of the claims dismissed before getting to trial.  It then filed a motion against the Commission seeking $5.5 million in fees and costs incurred in having to fight the claims it viewed as baseless.  In a strongly-worded opinion, the court awarded almost the entire amount sought by CRST.

Another employer took the offensive against the EEOC earlier this month.  On August 1, 2013, Case New Holland Inc. (CNH) sued the Commission for allegedly sending a mass email to 1,000 CNH employees to solicit age discrimination plaintiffs in a potential class action against CNH.  The company contends that the EEOC began investigating CNH for age discrimination in 2011 and that CNH had cooperated and produced hundreds of documents.  The investigation went quiet in January 2012—until CNH learned about the recent mass email a year and a-half later.  The suit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, alleges the EEOC’s solicitation of class action plaintiffs through the email blast is unconstitutional and violates its own administrative rules.  CNH seeks an injunction banning the EEOC from using any information it gathered from the email.

EEOC’s Lawsuits Against Employers For Refusing to Hire Convicted Felons

Another controversial action taken by the EEOC earlier this summer is generating additional frustration by employers.  In June, the EEOC sued BMW and Dollar General for excluding convicted felons from their workforces.  Both companies, like many employers, enforce hiring policies that disallow convicted felons from being hired. 

The EEOC alleges that such policies are racially discriminatory in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they unfairly exclude African-Americans from employment.  These are referred to as “disparate impact” cases.  The EEOC contends that companies that use criminal background information must prove it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” before excluding candidates for employment.  This essentially means companies cannot enforce an automatic exclusion.  Instead, according to the EEOC, they must conduct an individualized assessment of the nature and gravity of the offense, the age of the offense, and the type of job the individual seeks to obtain. 

The cases are EEOC v. DolGenCorp LLC, 1:13-cv-04307 (U.S District Court for the Northern District of Illinois) and EEOC v. BMW Manufacturing Co LLC, 7:13-cv-01583 (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina).   As these cases unfold, further updates will be posted.