EEOC Seal

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



PRESS RELEASE
7-11-13

EEOC and Baker & Taylor Resolve Title VII Claim Challenging Severance Agreement

Consent  Decree Makes Clear That Civil Rights Law Protects Communications With EEOC

CHICAGO - U.S.  District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered on July 10, 2013 a  consent decree resolving a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Baker & Taylor, Inc., a leading  distributor of print and digital content to libraries and retailers.  The decree resolves Case No. 1:13 cv 03729,  which was assigned to U.S. District Judge John Nordberg.

In the complaint that began the  action, EEOC alleged that Baker & Taylor violated Section 707(a) of Title  VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by conditioning employees' receipt of  severance pay on an overly broad, misleading and unenforceable severance  agreement that interfered with employees' rights to file charges and  communicate with the EEOC.  The agency essentially  alleged that in order to receive severance pay, employees were required to sign  a release agreement that could have been understood to bar the filing of  charges with the EEOC and to limit communication with the agency.

"This is  one of those cases that don't sound very serious initially,"  said EEOC Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson.  "But, in fact, the issue raised by this case  and its resolution relate to a legal right that is of critical importance to  all employees: the right to file a charge of discrimination and  communicate with the EEOC and local Fair  Employment Practices Agencies." 

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney  Gregory Gochanour added, "Free communication between the EEOC and employees is  at the absolute heart of ensuring the nation's workplaces remain free from  unlawful discrimination."

In addition to Hendrickson and  Gochanour,  EEOC Trial Attorneys Deborah  Hamilton and Laura Feldman were responsible for the litigation.  

Hamilton said, "The EEOC filed suit  under Section 707 of Title VII, a provision that is often misunderstood.  That provision permits the agency to quickly address  a pattern or practice of discrimination."

To resolve the case, Baker &  Taylor agreed to revise the company's severance agreement.  The company also agreed that employees who  signed the prior version of the agreement can file a charge of discrimination  with the EEOC and the company will not raise the time limits on charge filing  as a defense for a 180-day period, allowing these individuals the opportunity  to communicate with the EEOC free from any fear that they are violating the  conditions that govern their receipt of severance pay.

The EEOC's  Chicago District Office, which handled the matter, is responsible for  processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the  conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North  and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is  responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.