Federal courts have twice this month spanked the EEOC, once with a written reprimand that “‘J’accuse!’ is not enough in court,” and, in an unrelated case, by ordering it to pay an Ohio company $2.6 million in legal fees and costs.
The financial award is one of the largest ever against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A common theme in both decisions is the thin basis the EEOC had when it filed sued against Cintas, a Cincinnati uniform supplier, and Bloomberg News.
In the former case, the district court approvingly quoted Cintas’ lawyers, saying “the EEOC engaged in a ‘reckless “sue first, ask questions later” strategy.'”
No attempt at conciliation or investigation
What earned the EEOC the court award and the judge’s ire was that after being involved in the gender discrimination case for several years, the EEOC made no attempt at conciliation, nor did it investigate, until after it filed suit, the claims of the women who initially brought the case against Cintas 11 years ago.
It’s a complicated case, and the decision handed down earlier in August deals entirely with the award of fees and expenses. Months before, the same court had dismissed the suit on the same basis it later agreed to order the EEOC to reimburse Cintas for legal fees and expenses.
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In an analysis of the decision on fees, labor lawyers with the firm Seyfarth Shaw, which was not involved in the Cintas case, called it a “resounding defeat for the EEOC’s systemic litigation program.” The “good news,” says Seyfarth Shaw, is that now “employers have ammunition to make the government think twice about bringing and/or continuing to prosecute facially meritless claims.”
In the second defeat for the EEOC, a New York federal judge ruled against the agency in its suit against Bloomberg in which it claimed the financial news service discriminated against pregnant employees and those just returning from maternity leave. “J’accuse is not enough,” said the court. “Evidence is required.”
Instead of discrimination, the court said the case actually revolves around the issue of work/life balance. It cited Bloomberg’s Code of Standards, in which it states that the company is “is your livelihood and your first obligation.”
The court wrote:
The EEOC’s pattern or practice claim does not demonstrate a policy of discrimination at Bloomberg. It amounts to a judgment that Bloomberg, as a company policy, does not provide its employee mothers with a sufficient work-life balance…
The law does not mandate “work-life balance.” It does not require companies to ignore employees’ work-family tradeoffs — and they are tradeoffs — when deciding about employee pay and promotions. It does not require that companies treat pregnant women and mothers better or more leniently than others. All of these things may be desirable, they may make business sense, and they may be forward thinking. But they are not required by law.”