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September 21, 2016
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (known as the EEOC) is in trouble again for its aggressive behavior. In CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC, the court held that the defendant was entitled to payment of its attorney’s fees due to the EEOC’s failure to satisfy its pre-suit obligations. In this sexual harassment case filed by the EEOC (on the behalf of a large number of employees), the court held that the decision to award fees was not a material part of the claim as a whole. This judgment was due to the EEOC’s procedural mistakes.
This decision could have serious repercussions for employment law.
The EEOC is the organization responsible for enforcing federal laws concerning discrimination against employees due to race, disability, gender, sexual orientation and other attributes (such as genetic information). The EEOC is legally empowered as the organization that will challenge such discrimination. It has won a large number of cases for claimants.
However, since the decision in CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC, the Supreme Court has set a precedent that will potentially entitle employers to recover attorney fees from the EEOC— even when they do not win the case. This is a worrying development as it means that the EEOC may reduce its enforcement efforts for fear of being sanctioned. The pressure is now on the EEOC to investigate thoroughly (perhaps not to pursue cases so aggressively) and to ensure that all procedural steps are carefully followed.
The decision in the case is essentially beneficial for employers. In addition to this, the EEOC’s experiencing huge delays and a back log of cases. Inevitably, this is impacting its ability to bring deserving cases to court and punish those employers that have discriminated against employees.
This is certainly not the first time that the EEOC has been required to compensate for its mistakes. In one case, the EEOC was financially punished for bringing an unreasonable lawsuit to court. The EEOC was highly criticized for their quick decision to litigate without sufficient investigation in a case involving a temporary staffing firm and allegations of racial discrimination.
That said, the past couple of years have not gone smoothly for the EEOC. A 2014 report by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions referred to the EEOCs pursuit of “questionable cases” and aggression, which has resulted in court losses that have embarrassed the agency. EEOC criticism, which has also included the agency’s alleged misuse of authority and poor legal analysis, may potentially result in the EEOC analyzing its past mistakes and overhauling the way it functions.