How a Bad Position Statement Led to a Civil Rights Lawsuit

If you witnessed the violation of someone’s rights would you stand up to your friend or your employer? What would you be willing to risk standing up for justice? I engaged a group of friends in this conversation and they cited that loss of employment or promotional opportunity in the workplace was their biggest concern. And why not?  No one wants to risk their livelihood.

I was confronted with this dilemma after serving as a college vice president of advancement.  I witnessed a violation of someone’s rights and was faced with standing up to my former employer, or ignoring the victim’s complaint. The decision didn’t come lightly. Sometime after leaving my position as vice president of advancement one of my former direct reports, Ms. Hudson, was dismissed while still under possible protection of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The termination itself was perhaps the second or third incident that caused Hudson to file an Equal Employment Opportunity claim against her former employer. At this point, both parties had an opportunity to work things out but unfortunately what occurred next ignited a bigger action. The employer submitted what is referred to as an “employer position statement” to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A position statement is tantamount to a defense. It was supposed to explain why Hudson did not have a valid claim. After the employer submitted their position statement the EEOC provided Hudson with a copy of the statement. As a result of a January 1, 2016 policy change at the EEOC, Hudson was permitted to share the employer’s response with a qualified individual.  The individual she shared it with was me. Hudson called me and asked me to read the position statement. I was floored by the content of the response. Based on my knowledge of the complaint, portions of the employer position statement were patently false. I realized that Hudson knew that some statements were not true and she wanted to prove that her former employer created a false narrative.

As a one-time director of employee relations, with a background in employment law I was quite familiar with the process of responding to a claim. What was new to me was the fact that I could legally read the employer’s response to the claimant’s charge of discrimination without being the claimant, nor the employer representative.[1] The story the employer told would land them in court. I explained to Hudson that she did indeed have a legitimate complaint and that her former employer’s position statement was her road-map to filing a civil rights lawsuit because it was littered with statements that if proven false would support her claim. Ultimately, the contents of the response set the stage for the claimant to file a civil rights law suit for “discrimination because of association with an individual alleged to have a disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 (ADA); discrimination on the basis of her sex because she was allegedly denied a promotion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII); and retaliation because she allegedly made a complaint of discrimination in violation of Title VII.”[2]

The implications of the employer response (which now) possesses a life of its own are discussed in my book, It’s Easy to Talk Justice: A Case Study of Hudson v Philander Smith College. 

 

It’s Easy to Talk Justice Copyright © 2019 C.J. Duvall, Jr.

Available on Amazon (Kindle)

[1] Legal representatives, clergy persons and financial advisors are among those individuals with whom the claimant may share the employer’s position statement.

[2] According to the claimant.

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