Saturday, February 18, 2006
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in the voice of Judge Posner, has decided in Sidley Austin v. EEOC (7th Cir. Feb. 17, 2006), that the EEOC can seek monetary damages on behalf of former partners of the law firm of Sidley Austin under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The partners have claimed that Sidley forced them to retire under a discriminatory mandatory retirement policy. The court found the case could proceed even though individual former partners failed to exhaust their administrative remedies before the EEOC and could not have brought individual claims themselves as a result.
This appears to be the right decision as it has long been held that Title VII not only vindicates private interests in making victims of unlawful employment discrimination whole, but serves an important public interest as well in eradicating employment discrimination from the workplace. In this sense, the 7th Circuit's decision in Sidley Austin is consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Waffle House a few years back in which the Court found that the EEOC could bring a suit against Waffle House even though the employee involved had signed an arbitration agreement and could not bring an individual Title VII claim in court. Finding that the EEOC has a mandate broader that just making the victim of discrimination whole, the Supreme Court in Waffle House allowed the EEOC to pursue monetary relief against the employer to vindicate both the public and private interests served by Title VII.
My guess is that this decision might cause Sidley Austin to think long and hard about settling this case now since the former partners had salaries in the $400,000 to $600,000 range and there are about 30 of them in the class.
Hat Tip: Marty Malin