Good news for employers: A federal judge has slapped down the EEOC for pursuing a bias case the agency knew it couldn’t win.
And it wasn’t just a verbal rebuke. Judge Hugh Brenneman Jr. ordered the EEOC to pay Michigan-based staffing firm Peoplemark, Inc. more than $751,000 in attorney’s and expert witness fees.
It’s a complicated case, but here are the high points:
The EEOC, which has been making noises about employers discriminating against applicants with criminal histories, charged the company with having a blanket policy against hiring anyone with such a record.
Peoplemark denied it had such a policy — and, indeed, proved that of the 286 individuals the EEOC represented in the suit, 22% were actually hired.
So much for the blanket ban on employees with criminal histories. But even after it had learned its charge was without merit, the agency continued to pursue the matter — for two years.
EEOC finally gave up when it admitted it had “no statistical expert to rebut” Peoplemark’s evidence.
Shoot now, aim later
The employer subsequently sued for attorney’s fees and other costs, maintaining that the EEOC “deliberately caused Peoplemark unnecessary delay and expense in a very time consuming and complex case.”
The judge agreed, chiding the agency for not digging deeply enough into the facts of the case. And when it was proven the company didn’t have a categorical prohibition on hiring people with criminal records, “it was certainly unreasonable to continue this burdensome litigation beyond this point,” the judge ruled.
The court further scalded the agency for its overall handling of the matter: “As the various hearings and orders throughout this matter document, the EEOC failed to adequately manage the prosecution of this case from the beginning.”
Pretty strong stuff. Perhaps this decision will make the EEOC a little less eager to bring questionable claims against employers in the future — changing its MO from what some observers have characterized as “Ready … fire … aim.”
Cite: EEOC v. Peoplemark, Inc. To read the full decision, go here.