WASHINGTON - By a 6-3 vote, the United States Supreme Court today ruled in EEOC v. Waffle House, Inc. (No. 99-1823) that a private arbitration agreement between an individual and that individual's employer does not prevent the EEOC from filing a court action in its own name and recovering monetary damages for the individual. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that had prevented the EEOC from recovering monetary damages on behalf of an individual who had previously agreed with his employer to arbitrate the individual's private claim of discrimination.
"The Supreme Court's decision reaffirms the significance of the EEOC's public enforcement role," said EEOC Chair Cari M. Dominguez. "The ruling embraces the view that, as the agency entrusted to enforce the federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, the EEOC is not constrained in any way by a private arbitration agreement to which the EEOC is not a party. The decision also acknowledges, as does the EEOC, the goals of efficiency and economy that may be furthered in particular cases by the private arbitration system."
The Supreme Court recognized that the EEOC is authorized to bring suit in its own name and that the EEOC has the prerogative, as a federal enforcement agency, to decide what relief is appropriately sought in a particular action brought by the EEOC. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that the EEOC is a mere proxy for the individuals for whom it seeks relief in its actions, ruling that the EEOC is the "master of its own case" and can decide to bring a claim for monetary damages in court, even though the individual for whom the EEOC seeks relief would be required to pursue his or her own claim in arbitration.
EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers 40 years of age and older; the Equal Pay Act; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal sector; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments. Further information about the Commission is available on its Web site at www.eeoc.gov.