Employers that ignore consent decrees (court-approved settlement agreements) may be held in contempt of court and subject to additional fines, sometimes totaling $1,000 for each day of noncompliance. Recent contempt orders by federal courts in cases filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) serve as a warning to employers that fail to comply with their obligations under consent decrees.
A Dairy Queen franchisee was recently held in contempt by a federal court for breaching a settlement agreement in a sexual harassment case involving a teen worker. See EEOC v. YS&J Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Dairy Queen, Civil Action No. 1:11 CV 01103, (M.D. N.C. 2013). A federal judge ordered the employer to immediately comply with the terms of the settlement and to be fined $1,000 per day until it fully does so. The settlement terms included requiring the employer to pay the teen worker $17,500, to redistribute its sexual harassment policy to supervisors and to provide antidiscrimination training.
Similarly, a federal court held Supervalu/Jewel Food in contempt for breaching its settlement obligations in a class action disability discrimination lawsuit. See EEOC v. Supervalu, Inc., et al., +2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37548 (N.D. Ill. 2013). The court found that the employer had not sent return-to-work letters to eligible employees on disability leaves of absence as required by the consent decree. The court further held that the EEOC was entitled to request information to determine whether the employer had failed to provide reasonable accommodations to employees seeking to return to work from a disability leave of absence.
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