As a former business owner with employees, I learned a long time ago that our government does not always have our back; in fact, in many situations, it can be our adversary.
Did you know that if you do a Google search for the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), you’ll find: “We are looking for people who may have been affected by the unlawful discrimination…” Wikipedia defines the EEOC as: “The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, children, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information…” Neither Google nor Wikipedia mention that the EEOC works on behalf of the alleged discriminated employee for free. The employer, though, must pay its own attorneys to defend itself, regardless of whether or not the complaint against it has any legal—or moral—merit.
For the 24 years that I had my company, I thank God that we had only one close encounter of the worst kind with the EEOC. Almost 100% of our movers—including our supervisors—were African-American. I didn’t favor one race over another; we had few White applicants. I speculate now that was because those White guys didn’t like the racial makeup. Regardless, I was shocked when we were sued by the EEOC for discrimination. Our only female mover, who was also African-American, alleged that we discriminated against her when we promoted an African-American male over her to become a supervisor.
To be eligible to become a supervisor at our moving company, you had to meet the following requirements:
- Must have a valid truck driver’s license
- Must be able to load a moving van
- Must be able to run a moving crew
- Must be able to communicate effectively with the customer
Our defense consisted of the following points:
- The female employee not only did not have a valid truck driver’s license—she didn’t even have any kind of vehicle license—she never drove a car! (The EEOC countered by asking us if we ever offered her an opportunity to learn how to drive and get a license—as if this was an employer’s responsibility.)
- Since she was “vertically challenged” (a.k.a. short), she couldn’t become a loader because you must be tall enough to place furniture pads over the top of furniture (like an executive desk with an overhanging top) that’s resting on top of a 4-wheel furniture dolly. (The EEOC demanded proof of this.
- Her communication skills were poor and, therefore, would make it difficult for her to communicate with our customers and fellow employees. (The EEOC interviewed our supervisors to compare her communication skills with theirs. Their finding was that hers was no worse than the people they interviewed.)
The situation soon got much worse. Three weeks after our attorney filed our defense, we were hit with another EEOC lawsuit by the same employee, alleging that we had reduced her work hours and retaliated against her for filing the original discrimination claim. Although it was not true, it gave the EEOC agents an excuse to come to our office and go through all our personnel records. It felt like a witch hunt against us.
During their “audit,” they expanded their search into other nonrelated issues. For example, they asked us where we filed the medical records of our employees. I found out later that if you file those medical records in the same file folder or drawer as the personnel records, you could be in violation of potentially divulging “privileged information” about your employees. Thank God (again) that we had a labor attorney the year before tell us to keep the medical records locked up in a separate non-personnel drawer with limited access.
Five weeks and $12,000+ of legal fees later, we won the case and were vindicated. Our woes and expenses, though, were not over. Apparently when a local EEOC office finds for the defendant employer, the case is automatically forwarded to the Washington, DC, office for another review. Three months after that, the case was ultimately dismissed.
Because of this traumatic experience, I became paranoid about HR issues at our company. From that day forward, we kept a labor attorney on retainer all the time. Whenever a personnel issue occurred, we’d call him and solicit and follow his advice.
My advice to you is to do the same. Whatever it costs, I believe it’s a good investment and here’s why: even if your intentions are honorable and you believe you are following the laws, anyone can sue you for any reason at any time. In our case the EEOC was willing to take on a frivolous lawsuit. Having an attorney can save you headaches and a lot of money if you ever get sued. More important, his or her counsel can help you create and implement policies that may keep you out of trouble in the first place.
Be sure to join our Group at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12060567
For more information on our online office moving training, please visit
http://www.officemoves.com/training/index.html or call Ed Katz at 404.358.2172.