April 29, 2015

Supreme Court Slams Brakes on EEOC Lawsuits

Posted in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Conciliation, Discrimination, EEOC Conciliation, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tagged , , , , at 3:57 pm by Tom Jacobson

IMG_5578The United States Supreme Court today slammed the brakes on lawsuits started by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Specifically, the Court ruled that because the EEOC has a statutory duty to attempt conciliation before suing, the courts have authority to review whether the EEOC has fulfilled that duty. Giving courts the authority to review EEOC conciliation should stifle what some believed was the EEOC’s overly zealous litigation strategy.

The case is Mach Mining, LLC v EEOC, which started as a Title VII sex discrimination charge against the company. During its investigation, the EEOC found probable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred. The agency then invited the company to participate in conciliation to resolve the dispute. The agency also said that a representative would contact them to start the process. A year later the EEOC sent another letter saying that conciliation had been unsuccessful. The EEOC then sued the company.

In response to the lawsuit, Mach Mining argued that the EEOC had not attempted to conciliate in good faith before suing them. This argument was based on Title VII’s requirement that before suing, the EEOC must “endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.”

The EEOC countered by arguing that the courts do not have the power to decide whether or not the agency makes such an effort. The agency also argued that even if the courts have that power, its two letters to Mach Mining met that standard.

The Court agreed with Mach Mining and held that the courts have the authority to review whether or not pre-suit conciliation was adequate. Specifically, the Court noted that:

Judicial review of administrative action is the norm in our legal system, and nothing in Title VII withdraws the courts’ authority to determine whether the EEOC has fulfilled its duty to attempt conciliation of claims.

The Court then went on to establish a judicial process for making this determination:

  • A sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed its conciliation obligations but that its efforts have failed will usually suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement.
  • If the employer then provides credible evidence of its own, in the form of an affidavit or otherwise, indicating that the EEOC did not provide the requisite information about the charge or attempt to engage in a discussion about conciliating the claim, a court must conduct the fact-finding necessary to decide that limited dispute.
  • Should the court find in favor of the employer, the appropriate remedy is to order the EEOC to undertake the mandated efforts to obtain voluntary compliance.

By adding this level of judicial oversight to the EEOC charge process, those faced with Title VII discrimination charges should now have greater assurance that the EEOC will work harder to resolve those charges informally before rushing to the courthouse.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

January 5, 2015

MDHR Mediation — a Cautionary Tale

Posted in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Discrimination, MDHR Mediation, Mediation, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:33 am by Tom Jacobson

Mediated Settlement AgreementI am a strong advocate for mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”). However, a recent Minnesota Department of Human Rights (“MDHR”) case should cause anyone with charges pending before that agency to think twice before participating in MDHR mediation.

For the uninitiated, mediation is an ADR process where someone trained as a neutral (usually an attorney) is hired to meet with the parties and facilitate a discussion which, in the majority of cases, results in settlement of the dispute. It is a highly effective form of ADR.

When employment discrimination charges are filed with MDHR, the agency will often offer to mediate the dispute. Parties who agree to MDHR mediation hope for the same outcomes to be achieved as in private mediation; that is, saving the expense and delay of litigation, fashioning their own relief, maintaining a level of confidentiality, and avoiding the risk of a judge or jury publicly deciding their fate. An additional benefit of MDHR mediation is that the agency provides the mediator at no cost to the parties, whereas the parties typically share the cost of a privately retained mediator.

One recent MDHR case highlights the potential for unintended consequences of MDHR mediation. The case involved discrimination charges filed against Alexandria Light and Power (“ALP”) by an employee who had resigned. The case was settled through MDHR mediation with an agreement for the claimant to paid $65,000.00 by ALP’s insurer and with no admission of liability or findings of wrongdoing by ALP. This part of the process seemed to accomplish the parties’ goals of saving costs and minimizing risk.

However, after the settlement was reached, MDHR publicized the outcome with a press release that was posted on its website and then re-distributed by local and statewide media. The problem with the MDHR press release was that it did not accurately describe the case or the settlement. Consequently, ALP issued its own statement to correct the misinformation.

Because ALP is a municipally owned utility, state law required that the settlement be public information; therefore, the parties did not expect the settlement to remain confidential. However, having the settlement inaccurately described in an MDHR press release was an unexpected twist.

Thus, parties facing MDHR charges should bear in mind the possibility of the agency publicizing the outcome of a settlement. To minimize that risk, consider using a private mediator, include confidentiality clauses (to the extent allowed by law), and if utilizing MDHR mediation, discuss beforehand with the agency any publicity limits that may be imposed.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

August 1, 2014

Another day, another Executive Order impacting federal contractors

Posted in Age, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Americans with Disabilities Act, Arbitration, Arbitration, Color, Creed, Disability, Discrimination, Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Gender / Sex, Harassment, LGBT, Minnesota Human Rights Act, National Labor Relations Act, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race, Religion, Sexual Harassment tagged , , , at 11:23 am by Tom Jacobson

White HouseIn another attempt to flex his regulatory muscle, President Barack Obama on July 31, 2014 issued yet another Executive Order aimed at federal contractors. This one, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, requires potential federal contractors to disclose past employment and labor law violations before they can secure federal contracts.

Earlier this month, President Obama issued an Executive Order to protect the rights of LGBT employees of federal contractors (see President Issues Order to Protect LGBT Workers).

Yesterday’s Order requires most potential federal contractors to disclose violations in the past three years of thirteen specified federal labor and employment laws. These laws include the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and any state counterparts of these statutes.

The Order also directs employers with contracts of $1 million or more to “agree that the decision to arbitrate claims arising under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment may only be made with the voluntary consent of employees or independent contractors after such disputes arise.” In other words, the Order will severely limit these federal contractors’ rights to enter into pre-dispute arbitration agreements.

The Order appears to be directed at preventing repeat offenders, but it will have a major impact on employers who will need to overcome this new regulatory hurdle before securing federal contracts.

For more information about the President’s Order, see Obama Signs Executive Order Protecting Federal Contractors’ Employees (CBS News, 7/31/14), President Issues Order Requiring Contractors to Disclose Labor Law Violations When Competing for Federal Contracts (SHRM, 7/31/14), the President’s FACT SHEET: Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

July 3, 2012

Now Arbitrating at a Forum Near You

Posted in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Arbitration, Mediation tagged , , , , , , , at 4:32 pm by Tom Jacobson

I am pleased to announce that I recently completed Minnesota’s Certified Civil Arbitration Training and am now included on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Adjudicative/Evaluative Roster of Rule 114 Neutrals.  Cutting through the legalese, this means I am now available to serve as an arbitrator in civil disputes pending in Minnesota.

So, just what is arbitration? The Minnesota Judicial Branch describes arbitration as:

A forum in which each party and its counsel present its position before a neutral third party, who renders a specific award. If the parties stipulate in advance, the award is binding and is enforceable in the same manner as any  contractual obligation. If the parties do not stipulate that the award is binding, the award is not binding and a request for trial de novo (generally reconsideration by the district court) may be made.

As an arbitrator, I am now available to serve as the “neutral third party” to decide parties’ disputes.

I am also a trained mediator.  Mediation differs from arbitration in that it is, according to the Judicial Branch:

A forum in which a neutral third party facilitates communication between parties to promote settlement. A mediator may not impose his or her own judgment on the issues for that of the parties.

Mediation can be a highly effective way to resolve disputes while reducing (and in some cases, eliminating) the expense and duration of protracted lawsuits.

For more information about my arbitration or mediation services, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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