Human Resources News & Insights

Court slams EEOC for shortcutting ‘conciliation process’ on bias charge

Seems that even some judges are thinking the EEOC’s gotten a little over-aggressive in its approach to dealing with employee bias complaints.

Take, for instance, a recent case in Pennsylvania, where an employee of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Altoona filed a sex discrimination and retaliation claim (and later added an age bias charge) with the EEOC.

The EEOC investigated, and came back eight months later with its decision: It had reason to believe that not only was Ruby Tuesday guilty of the original charges made by the employee in Altoona, the company had engaged in “a pattern and practice of discrimination based on age in six of its restaurants in the Western Pennsylvania vicinity.”

And this is where things get interesting.

‘Make your best offer — now’

The agency forwarded a proposed conciliation agreement. The document gave the employers just 13 days from the date it was written — seven days from when it was received, according to the company — to make its formal response.

The company asked for an additional 30 days to respond. The agency said no. What’s more, it gave the company just nine days “to provide the EEOC with its ‘best offer'” — while demanding that the company pay just under $6.5 million to resolve the monetary provisions of the agreement.

The company made a counter offer, and said it would be willing to continue in the conciliation process.

Six days later, the EEOC issued a Notice of a Failure of Conciliation, and filed suit against the company in federal court.

In court, the company argued that the agency hadn’t fulfilled its obligation to “conciliate in good faith.” The agency argued it had, under law, wide leeway in conducting the conciliation process.

‘Devoid of reasonableness’

The judge came down on the side of the employer.

The efforts of the EEOC “fell so far short of the mark, no matter how deferential the standard applied by this court, that it was effectively not conciliation at all,” the judge said.

And then there’s this: “By any measure, a demand for the payment of more than $6 million dollars, coupled with nine days to either say “yes” or to make a “best and final” response in these circumstances … is so devoid of reasonableness as to lead this court to the conclusion that it was not a meaningful, good faith conciliation effort.”

But the judge wouldn’t dismiss the charges against Ruby Tuesday. He ordered the two parties to go through the conciliation process — properly this time.

The case is EEOC v. Ruby Tuesday.

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