Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

EEOC Suit Binding on Named Individuals, And A Poke in the Eye to the Louisiana State Courts


Federal courts are, at least in theory, often times deferential to the state courts, but last week the 5th Circuit was less than, when it remanded a case to the trial court with instructions to enter a permanent injunction enjoining two attempted perpetual plaintiffs from proceeding with their state court age discrimination suit. Vines v. University of Louisiana at Monroe (5th Cir. 1/28/05) [pdf]. The case dealt with an unusual legal issue -- is the EEOC in privity with the individual charging parties on whose behalf it files a lawsuit? Answering that yes, the Court went on to untrack the 2 former professors state court lawsuit against the university.

An earlier federal suit, brought on their behalf by the EEOC, challenging a university policy prohibiting re-employment of retirees on a regular full time basis had ended in summary judgment for the university. Although the EEOC initially appealed, it voluntarily dismissed the case. At that point, the 2 retired (and apparently with time on their hands) professors, filed in state court. The challenge to the suit on the grounds of res judicata/collateral estoppel was successful in the state trial court, but reversed on appeal. When the appeals court refused an en banc hearing, as did the state Supreme Court, the University turned again to the federal courts, filing a motion to enjoin the individuals.

Although the district court denied the motion, the 5th Circuit did not. Winding its way through both the perils of the Anti-Injunction Action and the arguments against privity, the Court found that the Louisiana appeals court decisions were not on the merits and thus not entitled to full faith and credit, and that the arguments against privity were not valid. The EEOC had represented the professors' interests, and the end of that case, should have been the end of it. And now it is.

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