EEOC Gets Minn. School District, Illinois Agency to Drop Restrictions on Employees’ Recourse

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week flexed its legal muscles against employers’ attempts to get employees to waive their legal rights.

In one case, the EEOC announced that a Minnesota public school district agreed to remove language in its severance agreements which states that the departing employee agrees not to pursue a discrimination charge arising out of his or her employment by the school district.

An investigation by EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office revealed that the school district used language in its “agreement and release” which prohibited those who signed the agreements from filing charges of discrimination arising out of their employment in return for severance benefits.

Requiring an employee to relinquish his or her right to file a charge of discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).

“We appreciate that the Minneapolis Public School district saw the light and agreed to remove this language from their severance agreement without the need for litigation to resolve this issue,” said Julie Schmid, acting director of the agency’s Minneapolis Area Office. “Employers should know that the EEOC will not countenance such language restricting an employee’s right to file a charge of discrimination, a right which was established by federal anti-discrimination law over 50 years ago.”

In addition to changing the language in its severance agreement, the Minneapolis Public School District shall provide notice to all former employees who signed such an agreement that they have the right to file a charge of discrimination without losing severance benefits or violating the severance agreement. The School District shall also waive the 300-day deadline for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC may require written reports, inspect the premises, interview witnesses and examine and copy documents in relation to the compliance of the agreement.

The second pushback by the EEOC on this issue was against the Illinois Department of Human Services. The EEOC said that  IDHS, one of the largest agencies of the State of Illinois with more than 13,000 employees, agreed to revamp retaliatory policies and procedures which required employees to waive their rights under federal anti-discrimination statutes as a condition of employment, and refused to resolve grievances for employees who would not agree to waive their rights.

The conciliation agreements announced November 2 are part of the EEOC’s priorities in its Updated Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), issued on October 17, 2016. One of the six priority issues in the SEP includes “preserving access to the legal system” as a top Commission enforcement policy.

 

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