On June 5th of this year we discussed the case of a group of Hawaiian farms and a labor contractor sued by the EEOC for allegedly harassing and mistreating Thai farmworkers.
We wrote that “[t]his week the EEOC announced that it had settled the case with four of the Hawaiian farms for an aggregate of $2.4 million. The EEOC General Counsel said that ‘This resolution reflects the commission’s redoubled effort to challenge discriminatory practices against the most vulnerable workers, who often live and work in the shadows of the economy (emphasis added).’” We noted the EEOC’s big splash of a press release (and wide press coverage).
EEOC Touts Settlement — Court Says “Not So Fast”
On June 9th we published a post entitled “EEOC Touts Settlement — Court Says ‘Not So Fast.’” Apparently our first post about the settlement was premature because the EEOC had jumped the gun in announcing the settlement and was dealt a blow by the Court, which denied the EEOC’s consent decrees — at least temporarily, apparently because the EEOC failed to comply with the Court’s procedural rules and oral instructions given to its counsel. Moreover, the Court, sua sponte, ordered the EEOC to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed against it’s counsel. Read the order here.
Why Did The EEOC Prematurely Announce A Settlement?
We tried to access the link to the EEOC’s earlier press release about the purported settlement but it was taken down.
Many readers told us not to trust the accuracy or truthfulness of EEOC press releases, because the EEOC, so they said, is notorious for puffing questionable cases and seeking publicity at the expense of innocent employers (and sometimes the truth).
The Court Has Just Excoriated The EEOC
The Court in the Hawaiian farms case has now issued a blistering decision in which it held that “The EEOC’s filing of the Consent Decrees with the unsigned orders on June 3, 2014 violated both Local Rule 100.9.1 and this Court’s oral instructions to counsel’s staff member. … The EEOC’s counsel disregarded that instruction, apparently so that EEOC officials could announce, during a previously scheduled press conference, that consent decrees had been “filed” in this case.”
So that’s why the rush to a press release!
As to the EEOC’s premature press release, the Court stated that “While this Court recognizes that the EEOC uses press conferences to inform the public about litigation that the EEOC is involved in and to educate the public about unlawful discrimination practices, the EEOC should not have held a press conference regarding the settlements … until this Court signed the orders attached to the Consent Decrees and filed the documents. This would likely have occurred in a timely manner, i.e. no more than seven to ten days after the EEOC submitted the Consent Decrees and proposed orders … The EEOC could have held its press conference at that time.”
To redress the EEOC’s premature press announcement, the Court ordered that “it will not consider [the EEOC’s] request to approve the four Consent Decrees unless the EEOC holds a press conference retracting its statements at the June press conference regarding the improperly filed Consent Decrees.”
As to sanctions, the Court ordered that “there is good cause to discipline both [EEOC attorneys] … This Court will file a disciplinary complaint against each of them with the State Bar of California.” Ouch! Pretty serious stuff!
It gives us little joy or satisfaction to see the EEOC and its counsel humbled like this: the EEOC is, after all, the leading agency in combatting employment discrimination and harassment, despite what may be overreaching or arrogance at times.
But our readers who warned us not to rush to publish EEOC press announcements until they were confirmed were apparently right … we will be a little more careful (skeptical?) in the future.