Responses to EEOC Charges of Discrimination
The Fort Lauderdale EEOC attorneys at the Mavrick Law Firm have substantial experience representing employers in proceedings before the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and also before local agencies that enforce anti-discrimination laws and ordinances. In many cases, once The Mavrick Law Firm submits a detailed explanation to the EEOC or other agency showing why there is no merit to the charge of discrimination, the employee does not file suit. By submitting a carefully worded position statement showing there is no valid claim of discrimination or retaliation, most employees will not undertake difficult litigation against their former employer.
In May 2016, the Mavrick Law Firm’s Fort Lauderdale EEOC attorneys obtained dismissal of a charge of pregnancy discrimination against a prominent Plantation, Florida physician’s practice. The charge of discrimination was filed by a disgruntled former employee under Broward County’s Human Rights Ordinance, which requires that “[w]omen affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Federal case law interpreting the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides the relevant legal analysis of such claims of discrimination which the courts refer to as “disparate treatment” claims. To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must establish that (1) she is a member of a protected group, i.e., pregnant, (2) she was qualified for the position or benefit sought, (3) she suffered an adverse effect on her employment, and (4) she suffered from a differential application of work or disciplinary rules. Spivey v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 196 F.3d 1309, 1312 (11th Cir. 1999). “When a plaintiff alleges discriminatory discipline, to determine whether employees are similarly situated, we evaluate whether the employees are involved in or accused of the same or similar conduct and are disciplined in different ways.” Burk-Fowler v. Orange County, Fla., 447 F.3d 1319, 1323 (11th Cir. 2006). However, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act “does not require that employers give preferential treatment to pregnant employees.” Spivey v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 196 F.3d at 1312. As in many pregnancy discrimination cases, the employee who filed the charge of discrimination against her former employer suggested that the employer had to give her special treatment merely because she was pregnant. However, the law is clear that pregnant employees are to be treated the same as all employees, pregnant and not pregnant, and are to be afforded no special treatment. Mr. Mavrick proved to the Broward County Human Rights Division (the agency investigating the alleged discrimination) that not only did the complainant fail to show she was treated worse than other employees, in fact the employer treated her at least as well as other employees and there was absolutely no evidence of discrimination. The Broward Human Rights Division issued a decision in favor of Mr. Mavrick’s client and dismissed the former employee’s claim.
A month earlier, in April 2016, Mr. Mavrick had successfully represented another employer, a child care business, accused of pregnancy discrimination by a former employee. In that case, Mr. Mavrick’s client had previously settled a worker’s compensation case brought by a former employee. In exchange for the settlement payment, the former employee signed a settlement agreement wherein she agreed to “indemnify, protect and hold harmless” her former employer. Under Florida law, such an indemnification and hold harmless agreement covers claims filed after the Agreement is signed. Vermut v. GMC, 773 So. 2d 126, 126-28 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000) (holding that a claim filed in 1997 was precluded by a “covenant to hold harmless … from any and all liability, claims and causes of action” that was signed in 1995); Villareal v. Eres, 128 So. 3d 93, 100 n.4 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) (holding that although the agreement did “not use the terms ‘hold harmless’ or ‘indemnification’” it was nevertheless “in the nature of a hold harmless or indemnification” because it released “all claims, including, but not limited to, past, present, or future claims..” The agency investigating the charge of discrimination agreed that the former employee’s claim was barred by her resolution of the worker’s compensation claim and signing the indemnification and hold harmless agreement. Often, former employees in worker’s compensation cases try to get additional monies from their former employers by filing charges of discrimination to extort a further settlement from the former employer. This is why it is crucial for employers to prepare comprehensive settlement agreements that are written with broad enough wording to extinguish such potential discrimination claims.
After the 2008 financial crisis, the Fort Lauderdale EEOC attorneys at the Mavrick Law Firm represented numerous businesses that were victims of baseless discrimination claims stemming from not getting promoted or due to layoffs or employment terminations. In one such case in 2010, former employees had banded together to fabricate bogus claims of discrimination and retaliation. Mr. Mavrick was able to persuade the EEOC that the claim lacked merit. Ultimately, the employee sued in federal court, but Mr. Mavrick proved the claim was meritless and the court dismissed the case with prejudice.
In another case in 2009, a former employee filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC claiming that he was denied a promotion base on race. The Fort Lauderdale EEOC attorneys at the Mavrick Law firm successfully defended the employer by arguing that federal courts interpreting discriminatory pretext in the context of promotion accord substantial leeway to an employer’s hiring decisions. In the context of a promotion, “a plaintiff cannot prove pretext by simply arguing or even by showing that he [or she] was better qualified than the [person] who received the position he coveted. A plaintiff must show not merely that the defendant’s employment decisions were mistaken but that they were in fact motivated by race.” Brooks v. County Comm’n of Jefferson County, 446 F.3d 1160, 1163 (11th Cir. 2006). Furthermore, a plaintiff must show that the disparities between the successful applicant’s and his own qualifications were of “such weight and significance that no reasonable person, in the exercise of impartial judgment, could have but that they chosen the candidate selected over the plaintiff.” Cooper v. Southern Co., 390 F.3d 695, 732 (11th Cir. 2004). Mr. Mavrick demonstrated to the EEOC that the former employee had never proved being better qualified, but instead merely asserted he was the best qualified without proof. Mr. Mavrick further demonstrated to the EEOC that the employee was actually much less qualified than the successful applicant. The EEOC agreed that the employee failed to satisfy his burden of proof and dismissed the charge of discrimination.
The Mavrick Law Firm also has repeatedly and successfully protected the interests of employers by settling cases after former employees filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC.