In contrast with other litigation, a case filed against an employer by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a very public affair. Typically, the EEOC will issue a press release when it files a new lawsuit identifying the employer and providing a summary of the alleged discriminatory conduct.
If a settlement is reached, there are no confidentiality agreements as there are in other cases. Rather, the settlement is documented in court documents in the form of a consent decree, which is available to the public. The agency also will issue another press release detailing the monetary relief and other terms of the settlement. Here is the latest North Carolina example.
The Thompson Construction Group, Inc., is a heavy industrial contractor. The EEOC claimed Thompson violated federal law when it fired an African-American employee—a pipefitter foreman working in Semora—because of his race.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a white subordinate made abusive and racially derogatory comments to the African-American foreman and engaged in insubordinate behavior. Thompson fired both employees after the incident.
The EEOC said Thompson doesn’t discharge Caucasian foremen whose subordinate employees engage in verbal disputes with them or for reasons similar to those it gave for firing the Black pipefitter foreman. The agency asserted the employer fired the foreman because of his race. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
Before the case could go to trial, the parties reached a settlement. Thompson will pay $115,000 to settle the case. In addition to the monetary relief for the pipefitter foreman, the two-year consent decree settling the lawsuit requires the employer to:
- Revise and distribute equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policies;
- Provide annual Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (antidiscrimination) training; and
- Report regularly to the EEOC about employees discharged from its North Carolina worksites.
While prelitigation conciliation agreements with the EEOC are confidential, if you get sued by the agency, it will be a very public affair. That will be the case even if you believe you haven’t done anything wrong and the case has no merit. You won’t have the benefit of confidentiality you get in arbitration or a private lawsuit. Instead, you’ll have to endure press releases and lots of media attention.