Employee Who Filed Bias Claim Was Refused Severance Pay, Other Employees Blocked From Filing Charges, Federal Agency Charged
MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Cardiac Science Corporation, an international manufacturer of diagnostic and therapeutic cardiology products based in Waukesha, Wis., will pay $50,000 and furnish other relief under a consent decree entered by a federal court in a retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit (EEOC v. Cardiac Science Corporation (Civil Action No. 2:13-cv-01079)), on Oct. 19, 2012, Cardiac Science offered severance agreements to Lashell Love and 56 other employees it had decided to lay off. The agreements were identical except for each employee's name and the monetary amount offered. When Cardiac Science learned that Love had previously filed an EEOC charge against it, the EEOC said, it refused to give her the severance payments and benefits she had been promised. Additionally, the standard language in the severance agreements, the agency maintained, could be read as prohibiting those workers accepting severance from filing charges of discrimination in the future.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The consent decree signed yesterday by U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Callahan, Jr. prohibits future discrimination and provides that Cardiac Science will pay Love $50,000, change the wording of its severance agreements, and train its managers and supervisors regarding employee rights and an employer's obligations under Title VII and the ADA. The 56 employees laid off with Love also will have additional time to file charges if they choose.
"The language in the severance agreements may have deterred the other 56 employees from filing their own EEOC charges, and that interferes with our ability to identify discrimination and enforce the law," said John C. Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, which is responsible for EEOC litigation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. "Federal law guarantees each individual the right to file a charge with the EEOC if she believes that job discrimination has occurred. No employer can take away a benefit - whether it's vacation time, overtime pay, or, as here, severance pay - simply because an employee will not give up his or her federal statutory right to contact the EEOC and file a charge. We're pleased that Cardiac Science has agreed to revise its severance agreements and to compensate Ms. Love for the violation of her rights."
Hendrickson added that retaliation complaints have been the fastest-increasing type of complaint filed with the EEOC over the past 10 years.
The EEOC's litigation efforts were led by Senior Trial Attorney Dennis R. McBride of its Milwaukee Area Office and Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp of its Chicago District Office.
According to its website, Cardiac Science is a subsidiary of Opto Cardiac Care Ltd., headquartered in Bengaluru, India. Besides its Wisconsin facility, Cardiac Science also has operations in California, China, Central Europe, Denmark, France and Great Britain. It has direct and indirect sales personnel and distribution in more than 100 countries and an extensive worldwide service network.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.