SW Legal studies in Business

Aggressive Methods Used by EEOC Justify Award of Attorney Fees to Defendant

Appeals court held that a district court properly granted attorney fees to defendant employer accused by EEOC of disability discrimination. The employee in question was not disabled and the EEOC refused to negotiate with the employer. It made exorbitant demands only by litigation, which is not proper process.

Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words

Disabilities; Reasonable Accommodation; Good Faith Conciliation; Attorney Fees

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Velez has a medical condition that prevents him from perspiring. Because of this, he must cool himself with water and a fan more than most people. He had worked for years in manual labor in Mississippi and Louisiana in jobs where there was no air conditioning. He went to work for Agro. His employers were aware of his condition, although it was never expressly discussed, and Velez took breaks as needed to cool down. After a year, a new job involved unloading empty barrels of cattle feed with another worker. Velez claimed the job made him sick because the barrels smelled bad and that he would not do it again. He was told that unloading the barrels was part of his job. When he refused to do the job again, he was fired. He filed a charge with the EEOC. An EEOC investigator found that the company made “no effort” to accommodate Velez. They demanded Agro pay him $150,000 in compensatory damages. Agro refused and offered to discuss the matter, but the EEOC stated that efforts at conciliation had failed and demanded payment. Agro refused. EEOC then filed suit for Velez, demanding $250,000 compensatory damages and $80,000 punitive damages. The district court granted Agro summary judgment and awarded it $225,000 in attorney fees. EEOC appealed.


Affirmed.  The employer attempted, as required by Title VII, to conciliate in good faith. The EEOC refused to communicate and only litigated. Furthermore, Velez is not disabled. He has a medical condition, but in fact is able to work. He was not limited in major life activities. Even if he had been disabled, the employer accommodated him by allowing him to take breaks as needed. “The EEOC must vigorously enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act and endure its protections to affected workers, but in doing so, the EEOC owes duties to employers as well: a duty reasonably to investigate charges, a duty to conciliate in good faith, and a duty to cease enforcement attempts after learning that an action lacks merit. In this case, the EEOC abandoned its duties and pursued a groundless action with exorbitant demands. The district court appropriately granted summary judgment for and awarded attorneys’ fees to Agro.”

Citation EEOC v. Agro Distribution, 555 F.3d 462 (5th Cir., 2009)

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