The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed a lawsuit seeking to stop a Colorado employer from using its form separation and release agreement and to allow employees who have signed the form agreement to file charges of discrimination and participate in EEOC and state agency fair employment investigations. In its federal court complaint, the EEOC alleges that CollegeAmerica Denver violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by conditioning employees’ receipt of severance benefits on signing a separation and release agreement which, according to the EEOC, chills and interferes with the employees’ rights to file charges and/or cooperate with the EEOC and state fair employment practice agencies.
As we wrote on this blog earlier, the EEOC has been scrutinizing employers’ separation agreements. This is the second such lawsuit challenging language in the separation agreements that does not permit the filing of discrimination or retaliation charges with the EEOC or other government agencies. As in the EEOC’s earlier complaint against a national pharmacy, the recent complaint against CollegeAmerica Denver targets numerous provisions in the separation agreement, including the release of claims, a non-disparagement clause and provisions in which the employee represents that he/she has not filed any claims, has disclosed to the company all matters of non-compliance and will continue to cooperate with and assist the company with any investigation or litigation.
Many of the targeted provisions are standard clauses in form separation agreements. Although it remains to be seen whether the courts will agree with the EEOC’s claims, it is always a good idea for organizations to review their agreements and ensure they do not raise any red flags for the EEOC while still protecting the company from future payouts for employment-related claims.