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Failure to Comply with Terms of EEOC Consent Order Costs Employer $400,000 in Agency's Costs

    Client Alerts
  • March 20, 2015

Under federal civil rights laws, one major difference between suits brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and private parties involves liability for attorney’s fees. Losing employers must pay the prevailing employee’s fees in a private party suit, while such fees are not recoverable in lawsuits brought by the EEOC. However, earlier this month an employer that failed to comply with the terms of an EEOC settlement decree agreed to pay a rare assessment of the government’s fees and costs expended in enforcing the terms of the agreement.

In 2013, the Jewel-Osco grocery chain agreed to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC. The settlement agreement required the employer to provide certain reasonable accommodations to employees returning from medical leaves. In 2014, the EEOC brought a contempt proceeding against the employer, alleging that it had violated the terms of the consent decree by failing on multiple occasions to provide the promised accommodations.

After a three-day contempt hearing, a federal district judge awarded the EEOC $400,000 in attorney’s fees and costs incurred in conjunction with its efforts to enforce the consent decree. This award contrasts with the $82,000 originally paid by the employer through the consent settlement.

Employers that settle litigation with the EEOC should understand the potential consequences of failure to adhere to the terms of the settlement agreement. The EEOC has become significantly more aggressive in terms of monitoring such compliance, and in pursuing contempt proceedings against employers it concludes have failed to live up to their obligations. Compliance with such settlement terms should be delegated to a senior member of management who is granted the authority and responsibility to assure that all promised measures are implemented in a timely manner.