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EEOC Files Suit in Chicago over failed settlement terms

The EEOC recently filed suit against the Chicago restaurant
chain Leona’s Pizzeria, Inc., alleging that the company has gone back on an
agreement attempting to resolve employment discrimination claims. The original
complaint stemmed from a 2008 allegation filed with EEOC that claimed female
employees had been sexually harassed and wrongfully fired. The EEOC
investigated
, found the cases to be with merit, and reached a settlement with
Leona’s two months ago.

Under the settlement, Leona’s was to pay $40,000 to one
former employee and $30,000 to three others. The settlement also included a
requirement that the company post non-discrimination policies and implement an
annual non-discrimination training program, as well as to post the details of
the settlement around its dozen restaurants in the Chicago area. Now Leona’s
has argued the settlement is overbroad given the nature of the earlier allegations,
and that it imposes an unrealistic overhaul of the company’s training and
employment practices. Leona’s owner Leon Toia has said that the company looks
forward to renegotiating the settlement with the EEOC.

When companies violate their settlement with the
EEOC, the Commission is given the power under Title VII to sue to enforce the
agreement. The EEOC’s statements tend to contradict Mr. Toia’s statement in that
it seems the Commission believes the company is just going to walk away from
the agreement and is thus filing suit. It remains to be seen whether the
company will actually be able to successfully renegotiate a settlement simply
by refusing to comply with the one currently in place. Regardless, employers
should always try to bring their employment discrimination practices in-line
with the EEOC’s guidelines, and should consult an attorney when faced with
questions about policies or with a potential claim of discrimination.