Restaurant Franchiser Unlawfully Barred New Hires From Filing Discrimination Charges, Federal Agency Charges
MIAMI - Doherty Enterprises, Inc., a regional company that owns and operates over 140 franchise restaurants, including Applebee's and Panera Bread locations scattered throughout Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and New York, unlawfully violated its employees' right to file charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.
According to the EEOC, Doherty requires each prospective employee to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement as a condition of employment. The agreement mandates that all employment-related claims -- which would otherwise allow resort to the EEOC -- shall be submitted to and determined exclusively by binding arbitration. The agreement interferes with employees' rights to file discrimination charges, the agency says.
Interfering with these employee rights violates Section 707 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employer conduct that constitutes a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII. Section 707 permits the EEOC to seek immediate relief without the same presuit administrative process that is required under Section 706 of Title VII, and does not require that the agency's suit arise from a discrimination charge.
The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (EEOC v. Doherty Enterprises, Inc., Civil Action No. 9:14-cv-81184-KAM). The suit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra.
"Employee communication with the EEOC is integral to the agency's mission of eradicating employment discrimination," explained EEOC Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg. "When an employer forces all complaints about employment discrimination into confidential arbitration, it shields itself from federal oversight of its employment practices. This practice violates the law, and the EEOC will take action to deter further use of these types of overly broad arbitration agreements."
EEOC District Director Malcolm Medley added, "Preserving access to the legal system is one of the EEOC's six strategic enforcement priorities adopted in its Strategic Enforcement Plan. When an employer seeks to deter people from exercising their federally protected Title VII rights, the EEOC is uniquely situated to seek an end to such unlawful practices, and to ensure the necessary safeguards are in place to allow employees to participate in the EEOC's charge filing process."
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.