Once the paperwork is gathered and the witness interviews complete, it’s time to craft a written response to an EEOC complaint. Here’s a seven-step process for drafting an airtight position statement.
Position statements, along with any supporting documentation, are an employer’s opportunity to lay out their own version of what happened.
The goal is to explain to the EEOC the legitimate business reasons for why any adverse employment actions were taken against the complainant.
Beware: A position statement lacking in detail may lead the EEOC to believe an employer is trying to hide something.
For example, saying an employee was laid off for “business reasons” won’t cut it. Firms should lay out exactly what those business reasons were.
And, since the statement can be used in legal proceedings if the case goes to trial, good firms review the response thoroughly and verify the accuracy of every statement.
Building the case
A solid position statement includes seven key sections:
- The statement usually begins with the company establishing its commitment to prohibiting bias in the workplace and ensuring equal opportunities for all candidates and employees. This section should only be a sentence or two – just enough for readers to understand that the company takes bias charges seriously.
- Next, summarize the case in a paragraph or two. Be brief. A more complete version of the facts can be made later in the position statement. Use this part to create context for the situation, so the reader can learn where the company stands.
This allows the employer to state its conclusions well before the end of the position statement. Be sure to stick to the facts. Never slander anyone or say unnecessary negative things that aren’t relevant to the complaint.
- After summarizing the facts, address the complainant’s legal claims. The best responses lay out what law was allegedly violated, and, in a couple brief sentences, the firm’s position on the allegations. This section is also meant to create context. (A more complete response will be in a later section of the document.)
- Clarify any policies and procedures relevant to the case. Copies of each policy should be included with the documentation that accompanies the position statement.
- The next section contains the employer’s argument and is the most comprehensive part of the position statement. Carefully identify all the facts in a clear order, backed by an in-depth analysis of why the company’s actions were legal and non-discriminatory.
For instance, if a worker claims a company didn’t do enough to accommodate his disability, the statement should lead the reader through all relevant facts from beginning to end to show why it did everything it could to provide a reasonable accommodation — and answer any questions that might arise.
In this example, there are a number of questions that need to be addressed. When did the company become aware of the employee’s potential disability? How did it respond? What accommodations, if any, were made? How did the employee respond? If problems occurred, when did the firm become aware of them? How did it respond to any complaints filed? What company policies and procedures were cited to support the company’s actions?
Employers should also include and mention all communication regarding the accommodation process, including e-mails, memos and documentation of telephone calls and/or conversations. These documents should be attached to the end of the position statement and referred to and cited throughout for the reader to easily find (for example, Exhibit A, B, C, etc.).
- Good employers next turn to precedent to bolster their arguments for why they acted the way they did. How similarly situated employees were treated can go a long way in proving a company didn’t discriminate against an employee.
This is where it pays to be specific. For instance, if the complainant claims she was fired because the company is biased against women, now’s the time for the company to show it has treated everyone the same for the same violations.
- Finally, firms should close with a brief conclusion. No more than a couple sentences, the conclusion should end with a request that the agency issue a “no cause” finding in the complaint.
Remember the audience(s)
Once submitted, a position statement will be reviewed by many different people, all involved in the case in different ways.
Some EEOC offices will send a copy of the statement to the complainant or his or her attorney. Other EEOC attorneys may also review it.
And, as already mentioned, the position statement may end up as evidence if the case makes it to court.
The best statements are written in such a way that someone not involved with the case can understand why the company did what it did.