EEOC Wins 2nd Round with Sidley Austin
by Michael Fox
Thanks to Howard Bashman for his quick find of today's decision by the 7th Circuit, EEOC v. Sidley Austin (7th Cir. 2/17/06) [pdf]. The underlying lawsuit is the EEOC's effort to bring age discrimination claims on behalf of 30 or so "partners" who the EEOC contends for purposes of Title VII were mere employees protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Today's ruling was on an interlocutory appeal to determine whether or not the trial judge correctly decided that the EEOC could recover damages on behalf of the "partners" even though they would be barred from bringing an action on their own behalf because of their failure to timely file a claim.
Sidley Austin had the benefit of prior precedent, since the 7th Circuit previously answered that precise question, no. But unfortunately for Sidley, the intervening decision of the Supreme Court in Waffle House now required a different answer. While Waffle House had to do with the impact of an arbitration agreement on the powers of the EEOC, its underlying rationale makes it clear that the rights of the EEOC are not vicarious (and thus dependent on the employee administratively protecting his or her claim) but stand alone.
The net result, the EEOC can continue on its quest for losses for the "partners." Judge Posner wrote the decision, his second ruling in favor of the EEOC in this on-going litigation. For background on the litigation and Judge Posner's first ruling (enforcing a subpoena) see my earlier post, Discriminating Against Your Partner? - Sidley & Austin Sued By EEOC .