A lengthy litigation between an event planning company and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is culminating this summer in a compensatory claim. Freeman, a live event services provider, has asked a Maryland federal court to award it nearly $1.7 million it used to defend itself against a 2009 discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The money, if awarded, includes $1,361,019.50 in attorneys’ fees for the trial and appeal, and $322,579.50 in expert testimony fees. 
Insiders are watching this case – as it nears its sixth year in the court system – closely as it could be further proof that the EEOC is overstepping boundaries when it comes to filing discrimination lawsuits, particularly those that involve structural discrimination, or its equally murky sister, disparate impact. Click on the links for a primer on both of these theories and why they’re so difficult to prove.

Here’s some background on the Freeman case:

  • The EEOC filed the case based on a woman who claimed she didn’t get hired after Freeman pulled her credit history.
  • The EEOC claimed that using applicants’ credit history in the application process had a disparate impact on African-Americans.
  • The EEOC claimed that using applicants’ criminal histories had a disproportionate impact on African-American men.
  • The case, which Freeman ultimately won, dragged on for roughly four years even after a lower court had dismissed the EEOC’s claim.

At the time of the ruling, Freeman CEO Joe Popolo said this:

“On behalf of all of our employee-owners, we feel vindicated. We made the decision early on to fight this case because we felt strongly that the EEOC had overstepped its bounds. We have a very diverse workforce and as such, discrimination laws are extremely important to us and our employees, but twisting them to deny a business the right to make sure its employees and customers are safe from potential criminal or fraudulent acts goes beyond all reason.”

Part of the problem with the EEOC’s case against Freeman stemmed from the fact that it, too, runs criminal and credit background checks on 90% of its new hires. So there appeared to be a double-standard in what the EEOC claimed was unlawful by Freeman and what it practiced itself.

What also added to the demise of the case for the EEOC, was its use of ‘expert’ Kevin Murphy. Murphy was called up on to show statistical evidence of racially disparate impact but, in fact, ended up being accused of cherry-picking stats to support the EEOC’s cause.

Here’s a small sampling of what the blogosphere wrote about the guy:

We’ll keep you posted as Freeman’s compensatory claim works its way through the court system.

This is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, time the EEOC is accused of overstepping its intentions. As firms work hard to protect themselves and watchdogs keep an eye on the EEOC’s behavior, lawmakers are attempting to put some extra oversight onto the government agency. Three house bills are currently in committee. You can read about them here.

What do you think of the EEOC’s track record? Leave us your thoughts below!

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