Justices Debate Arbitration Role in EEOC Suits

October 12, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - In a case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), US Supreme Court justices argued amongst themselves over the government's role in combating discrimination when workers sign away their right to sue.

In the case involving a Waffle House kitchen worker fired after an on-the-job seizure, the EEOC maintains that it has a duty to root out workplace discrimination even if a binding-arbitration system is in place.

Ten percent of US workers are covered by such an agreement.  

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Waffle House argues that a binding arbitration agreement should be binding.

The kitchen worker, Eric Scott Baker, agreed to arbitration when he applied for his job. After being fired in 1994 he contacted the EEOC, which sued for an alleged violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“If an employee had already gone through arbitration, and had settled a discrimination complaint, would the EEOC have the power to force a do-over in federal court?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked of EEOC lawyers.

In an earlier decision, the court had found no broad exception to a federal law governing arbitration agreements.

The court could use the Baker case to go a step further by ruling that the same Federal Arbitration Act precludes this kind of suit by the EEOC.

Critics of arbitration clauses say workers often don’t read the legal fine print and don’t realize what rights they are signing away. Proponents argue that it is a cheaper and fairer alternative to the courts.

 The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Waffle House, 99-1823.

– Camilla Klein                           editors@plansponsor.com