EEOC Suit Challenging Doherty Enterprises' Attempt to Bar Discrimination Charges Will Go Forward
Court Rejects Doherty's Argument That EEOC Cannot Proceed Without Discrimination Charge and Conciliation, Denies Motion to Dismiss
A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss a claim for a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced.
In its complaint filed on Sept. 18, 2014, EEOC charged that Doherty Enterprises, Inc. violated a section of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Doherty Enterprises, Inc. a regional company owns and operates over 140 franchise restaurants, including Applebee's and Panera Bread locations scattered throughout Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and New York. According to EEOC, Doherty requires prospective employee to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement as a condition of employment.
Specifically, EEOC said that Doherty violated Title VII's Section 707(a) by conditioning employment upon the signing of a mandatory arbitration agreement that required employees to give up their right to file discrimination charges with EEOC or state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) or to communicate with and participate in the proceedings conducted by EEOC and FEPAs. The arbitration agreement required employees instead to have all employment-related matters determined by binding arbitration.
Doherty's motion to dismiss argued that EEOC's lawsuit could not proceed because it was not premised upon a discrimination charge, and because EEOC did not engage in pre-suit conciliation, which is required under other sections of the statute.
The court rejected those arguments and found that Section 707 permits EEOC to seek immediate relief without the same pre-suit administrative process that is required under Section 706 of Title VII. The court also rejected Doherty's argument that EEOC is limited to claims of "discrimination" and "retaliation" and held that under Section 707, EEOC can bring a claim to stop a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights protected by Title VII.
EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (EEOC v. Doherty Enterprises, Inc., 14-cv-81184). The court's decision was docketed on Sept. 1, 2015.
"The court's order recognizes EEOC's critical role in eradicating employment discrimination," explained EEOC Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg. "Employers cannot immunize themselves from federal oversight by prohibiting employees from filing discrimination charges and communicating with EEOC. As the court held, Title VII gives the agency the authority to take immediate action to challenge the use of these types of overly broad arbitration agreements."
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Kristen Foslid added, "The Commission is dedicated to preserving access to the legal system, which is one of EEOC's six strategic enforcement priorities adopted in its Strategic Enforcement Plan. When an employer seeks to deter people from exercising their Title VII rights, EEOC will vigorously protect employees' right to come forward and speak with federal law enforcement officials."EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.