Human Resources News & Insights

3 ways EEOC investigations get screwed up

No one in HR looks forward to getting notice of an EEOC investigation. But planning ahead can save a lot of trouble — and help keep your company out of court.

The EEOC and the employee’s lawyers are going to look at how your company responds to the charge and might be able to use what they find against the company. Here are three things you definitely don’t want to do, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Whitney Warner, who spoke at this year’s annual Society for Human Resources Management conference:

  • Issue a gag order. Many companies make the mistake of asking current employees not to talk to the EEOC or the ex-employee’s lawyer. But employers can be hit with retaliation suits if employees are punished for participating in a legal investigation.
  • Fail to investigate the charge. Employers sometimes fail to conduct a thorough investigation after receiving the charge, and respond with a quick defense like, “Our company doesn’t discriminate.” But the charge must be treated the same as an internal complaint and investigated in the same way.
  • Give out witnesses’ contact info. Once the employee’s attorneys get a hold of your response to the EEOC, they’ll try to contact the employees listed as witnesses. You’ll want them to have to call you first.
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  • After witnessing blatant systemic discrimination activities within the large engineering firm I worked with, I filed an EEOC charge. Not having it explained to me what exactly the process was, I was assuming the EEOC would investigate the company (3 discrimination suits within 6 month period had occurred that I knew of).

    Instead of showing concern of the discrimination issues, a mediation was set up. I was told by the EEOC that this was “an effective way of resolving issues and reaching a compromise.” In short, it gives the violator (the company) a chance to buy me off so they save legal fees. It was further explained the mediator would take a neutral stance. ? I called them. They should be assisting me?

    When I informed the EEOC I had said all I needed to say to the company – and vice versa – I was told the mediation was “my best option, as only .001% of cases were ever investigated, and a court case would most probably be dismissed.” ?

    If discrimination is illegal, why is the violator being let off the hook and given a “chance” to buy off their victims? The EEOC mediator explained they were very overworked and had too many cases to investigate. It should appear obvious that if the EEOC would lower the boom on these types of firms, fewer cases would be streaming to their desks. Since this is an obvious conclusion, I wonder how much payoff corporations pay to EEOC to allow them to be let off the hook. Must be a chunk.

    Few victims have money for legal fees and extensive court cases. Corporations are well aware of this. By “scaring” the victim in telling them they will lose and it will cost them a fortune, obviously, more victims will feel forced into accepting some piddly amount of money to disappear. Much to the company’s preference.

    It would be best if the EEOC revamped their poster wording. Instead of “Discrimination is illegal – call EEOC,” it should read, “Discrimination is illegal – but tolerated. If you’ve been discriminated against, just quit your job as we will only take a neutral stance and not help you unless it’s a really big case that will get us visibility.”

  • Drew

    Elizabeth is unfortunately “absolutely correct.”

  • MelanieB

    Elizabeth, while I sympathize with your experience with the EEOC, I have to disagree with WHY you think they are overwhelmed. Having been on the defending position as the HR Manager for different companies with complaints filed (sexual harassment, gender discrimation, racial discrimination, religious discrimination and most recently ADA), I can honestly say that not one of the complaints was warranted, yet they were filed. An amazing number of terminated employees do not recognize that they were terminated for their own short-comings. It couldn’t be them – it had to be the company firing them because of their color, sex, disability, etc. Perhaps if people who were truly discriminated against were the only ones filing complaints, the EEOC would be better equiped to provide the type of action that is needed. And No, I’m not accusing you of filing a false complaint. Personally, I have never opted for mediation – you are correct, it is just a pay-off. Instead I provided a detailed response with appropriate documentation to support the company’s position.