On Monday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the agency against a Western New York staffing agency. The lawsuit alleged that the agency engaged in a pattern of rejecting minority, pregnant, and older workers for assignment to its clients. In some cases, minority employees were assigned the lowest paying, least desirable jobs.
The press release announcing the settlement states that the staffing agency cooperated with its client’s requests for the exclusion of workers based on race, sex, and pregnancy. Under federal civil rights laws, employers cannot defend themselves against employment discrimination claims based on client or customer preferences. If a staffing agency agrees to these client preferences, both it and the client are subject to employment discrimination claims.
In this case, the employment agency agreed to pay $550,000 and agreed to outside monitoring and notification to the clients of its obligations not to discriminate in making worker assignments. Companies faced with requests from clients or customers not to assign employees to their matters based on protected classifications such as race, sex, age, religion, etc., need to determine how to respond. This may require difficult discussions with such customers, but taking the path of least resistance and agreeing to these requests can result in expensive and damaging legal claims.