EEOC Allowed to Sue in Bias Cases Even If Worker Cannot

In a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the right to sue employers under anti-discrimination laws even if the affected worker cannot because of an arbitration agreement. Though the ruling will affect only a few employment cases, it allows the EEOC to sue for monetary damages on behalf of this set of employees who could not otherwise. Up to 700 companies include arbitration agreements in their employee contracts and about 6 million employees nationwide are under arbitration agreements, according to the Washington Post. The AARP Foundation and the attorney generals of 28 states all filed amicus briefs in support of the EEOC and heralded the ruling as a victory for employee rights. “The language of business is money,” said AARP Foundation spokesperson Thomas Osbourne. “That’s what employers understand, so the threat of an EEOC case acts as a deterrent to illegal conduct.”

The case is EEOC v. Waffle House. An employee of Waffle House was fired after having a seizure at work and attempted to sue the company under the Americans With Disabilities Act with the help of the EEOC. The employee had, however, signed an arbitration agreement in his employment contract. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the EEOC could not sue on the employee’s behalf because of the agreement and could only sue for a court order requiring Waffle House to stop its discriminatory practice. The Supreme Court ruling overturns this determination and can be applied to all anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing sex discrimination. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, along with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented.


Washington Post, 1/16/02; New York Times, 1/16/02

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