Tree Cutter Discrimination Suit Cut Down

March 7, 2002 ( - A federal judge upbraided the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for not trying harder to settle the racial discrimination claims of a tree-cutting company employee before suing on his behalf.

US District Judge Maurice Paul of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee also awarded the company’s lawyers costs and fees because of the EEOC’s “grossly arbitrary manner” and “unreasonable conduct.”

According to court records, Lewis charged that while working for Asplundh Tree Expert in Gainesville, Florida between 1993 and 1996, he was racially harassed by an employee of a local utility company for whom Asplundh was working at the time.

Lewis was fired in June 1996 after the complaints. He alleged the firing resulted from his allegations; Asplundh insisted it was a normal staff reduction.

EEOC First Tried Settlement Talks

Lewis took his claims to the EEOC, which claimed Asplundh had violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Right Act. The EEOC encouraged settlement talks after it had taken up the matter nearly three years after getting the case.

According to the court records, the EEOC ignored a request by Asplundh’s lawyer for more information about Lewis’ claims and EEOC potential discrimination findings. A day later, EEOC notified the company that it felt the settlement talks had failed and the agency sued Asplundh in May 1999.

Paul ruled that EEOC’s behavior was improper, dismissed the EEOC suit, and ordered the agency to pay Asplundh’s costs.

The case is EEOC v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., N.D. Fla., No. 1:99cv121