The Eighth Circuit upheld a lower court’s order that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pay $3.3 million in damages for failing to conciliate an employment discrimination matter.

According to court documents, the EEOC investigated CRST International, a shipping company, for allegedly discriminatory practices against women. These “pattern or practice” matters usually include significant damages. However, the EEOC allegedly refused to investigate individual claims.

“The district court’s finding that the EEOC’s failure to conciliate and investigate the claims was an unreasonable litigation tactic that resulted in frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless claims is consistent with this court’s prior observation that the EEOC ‘wholly failed to satisfy its statutory pre-suit obligations,’” the ruling stated. 

The Duty to Conciliate

Under federal law, the EEOC has a duty to conciliate or try to work out a settlement, with employers. For many years, this “conciliation” often meant little more than a demand letter. Essentially, the EEOC demanded money and an admission of liability. If the employer defendants refused or submitted a counter-offer, the EEOC proceeded to the litigation phase.

Mach Mining v. EEOC, a 2015 Supreme Court case, changed the legal landscape. The Justices unanimously held that the EEOC had a duty to negotiate in good faith and attempt to avoid litigation. In this context, “good faith” usually means a willingness to make sacrifices in order to get a deal done. 

Additionally, the Justices ruled that the pre-suit conciliation process was subject to judicial review. So, if the EEOC did not try hard to settle a case, courts could step in, as in the above situation.

Most civil cases, including employment discrimination cases, usually settle out of court. The terms of that settlement usually depend on the strength of the plaintiff’s evidence, as outlined below.

Establishing Discrimination in Court

Generally, plaintiffs do not need much evidence to establish an employment discrimination case. The elements of a prima facie case are:

  • The plaintiff belonged to a protected class, and
  • The employer took adverse action against the plaintiff.

Race, gender, age, and sexual orientation are examples of protected classes under the Civil Rights Act. Adverse action could be a pre-employment event, like a failure to hire, an exit-level event, such as termination, or almost anything in between.

In response, the employer could either disprove an element of the plaintiff’s case, which is almost impossible or claim that there was a discriminatory-neutral reason for the adverse action, which isn’t much easier to prove.

The EEOC cannot shoot first and ask questions later. For a confidential consultation with an experienced employment law attorney in Greenville, contact the Briggs Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Greenville County and nearby jurisdictions.

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