Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Do you know? How to handle an EEOC or OCRC charge

It’s no secret that in a down economy, the number of employment-related claims rise. To file a claim under any of the federal employment discrimination statutes, an employee must first file a charge with either the EEOC or the OCRC. The same does not hold true under Ohio’s parallel statute. An employee can directly proceed to court under Ohio law without first stopping at one of the administrative agencies. Yet, more and more employers are receiving discrimination charges from these agencies.

Do you know what to do when you are served with such a charge? Today, I’m sharing Business Management Daily’s 10 tips to help guide you through your next EEOC or OCRC charge, hopefully to safe, no-probable-cause, landing (with my own editorial comments, for good measure):

1. Tell the whole story

For many disgruntled employees, an agency charge is the first and only step they take against a business. Often, employees simply go away if the agency dismisses their claim, and never resurface in court. Thus, it’s important to try to nip the claim in the bud painting as complete of a picture as necessary. The agency will want to see that a legitimate business reason existed for the challenged action.

2. Use documentation

Documents supporting your version of events should be included with the response. If you omit them, the agency will likely ask for them anyway, and may think that you had a motive for not originally including them. Any documents that can verify what you say happened actually did happen will go a long way to having the charge dismissed.

3. Verify the response’s accuracy

Anything you submit to an agency can be used in a later lawsuit, which can prove damaging if the employee’s attorney can prove an untruth.

4. Highlight consistent past decisions

One of the best ways to demonstrate that unlawful discrimination did not motivate a decision is to highlight the same actions against similarly situated employees outside of the charging party’s protected class.

5. Remember, the agency doesn’t know your business

In telling your story, details about your business will help the agency understand your actions. The decision maker may not be able to readily discern the reasons why the employee’s actions merited termination without some context about your business, its operations, and its policies.

6. Maintain confidentiality

Information about the charge should be on a need-to-know basis, especially if you still employ the charging party. If the agency plans on contacting current employees as part of its investigation, let them know that they should cooperate and be honest. It also is a good idea, though, to have your attorney sit down with any witnesses ahead of time so that you have some idea what they are going to say. Remember, though, it is illegal to retaliate against an employee for cooperating in an investigation, even if they sell you down the river.

7. Be prompt and cooperative

Don’t let the agency think that you are blowing them off or stonewalling. If you need an extension, ask for it.

8. Work with legal counsel

A discrimination charge is often the first step in a chain of legal events. What you tell the agency will not only be used by agency to adjudicate the charge, but also by the employee in a later lawsuit. If you are not going to have an attorney investigate the claim and prepare the response, at least have a lawyer review a draft before you file it.

9. Contact your insurer

If your employment-practices liability policy includes discrimination charges, failing to timely let the insurer know of a charge could result in denial of coverage for the charge and all subsequent legal claims.

10. Preserve all documents

Courts are increasingly less tolerant of companies that fail to adequately preserve relevant evidence. When you receive an administrative charge, collect and preserve all documents that could be relevant. You should also suspend any routine practices that could result in the destruction of relevant records, particularly electronic information like emails.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.

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