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Recent Court of Appeals Ruling Hinders EEOC’s Class-Action Suits

A recent decision by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in Iowa has limited the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to pursue class-action lawsuits against employers who discriminate against certain groups of employees. The ruling has Kansas City employment discrimination lawyers worried that wronged employees may not receive the compensation they deserve.

The EEOC uses class-action lawsuits to pursue employment discrimination cases so it can include many people with similar claims in one case. Last year, the agency filed 23 systemic discrimination cases, a record for the agency. These efforts help protect the civil rights of workers across the country. In one recent example, the EEOC settled with telecom giant Verizon for $20 million over an attendance policy that discriminated against disabled workers.

The Court of Appeals Ruling

Now, however, the EEOC's ability to bring class-action lawsuits against employers may be hindered. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a district court decision to dismiss the EEOC's class-action lawsuit against a Midwest-based trucking company.

The plaintiffs in the suit were women who claimed they were the victims of sexual harassment during a trucking training program. Women testified that their fellow male employees made sexual comments, pressured the women for sex and even sexually assaulted them during cross-country, weeks-long training trips.

The district court judge dismissed the EEOC's lawsuit, citing the agency's "sue first, ask questions later" approach. In the judge's written opinion, she stated that the EEOC's class-action strategy created a "moving target" of plaintiffs that made it costly for firms to defend themselves in such a case.

Consequences of the Appeals Ruling

Business groups are pleased with the Court of Appeals upholding of the district court decision. Companies believe the EEOC is too aggressive in its pursuit of civil rights cases and its approach leads to increased costs for businesses.

The ruling will force the EEOC to investigate each individual's claim and identify every worker rather than include all potential plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit with an opt-out option. It also compels the EEOC to attempt to settle with defendants outside of court before pursuing a lawsuit. These changes will delay the time it takes for the EEOC to bring claims.

Employment discrimination is a violation of worker civil rights. Agencies that fight to hold perpetrating companies responsible for discrimination in the workplace should be given the abilities necessary to hold employers accountable. If you or a loved one has been discriminated against by an employer, please contact an experienced Kansas City discrimination attorney.

* Free consultation does not apply to review of severance and/or employment agreements.

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