Employers in Texas should pay close attention to recent developments regarding employee communication with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Employees have a right under federal law to communicate freely with the EEOC about allegations of discrimination or violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How an employer responds to such a complaint can have a major impact on the ensuing impact of the filing, and employers can take action to protect themselves from being at risk of further charges.
In one case, an in-house attorney issued a letter to approximately 150 employees about an ongoing EEOC lawsuit that alleged violations of the ADA. In the letter to employees, sent to alert staff that they may be questioned about the issues involved in the case, the lawyer provided extensive information about the situation. The letter included the name of the complaining employee, their specific allegations, the disability they have and the specific accommodations that they claimed were denied to them.
Because of the level of detail contained in the letter, the EEOC perceived it not as a good-faith attempt to prepare for a lawsuit but rather as an attempt to intimidate other employees and prevent them from filing similar complaints. In August 2017, a court found that the EEOC's claims of ADA interference due to the letter should be brought before a jury for trial, but a settlement was later reached. The company involved paid a $45,000 lump sum to the complaining employee as well as agreeing to "extensive injunctive relief."
By being careful about sharing excessive information and details with a large number of staff members, employers can help to protect themselves from claims of ADA interference, which might escalate the severity of existing complaints. An employment attorney may be able to provide advice to employers on how to provide a defense to invalid claims in employment litigation without placing themselves at greater risk.