What provisions are common to most consent decrees?
Consent decrees come in many different forms. There is no standard “template” for a consent decree because attorneys tailor each consent decree to address the particular problems between the employer and their employees. As a result every consent decree is a unique solution to the particular problem faced by the plaintiffs. For example, sensitivity training may be appropriate for a particularly abusive supervisor, but not necessary when the discrimination occurs in more subtle ways. Similarly, if a company refuses to fill positions with qualified women, it may not be necessary to have a provision to pay money to these women, but it would certainly be appropriate to have a provision requiring the company to begin interviewing and hiring more women.
Despite the individual nature of all consent decree’s most of them will incorporate some of the following provisions as a basis for relief. The following provisions are commonly used to address discrimination, prevent it from happening in the future, and compensate any parties that may have been harmed because of it.
Injunctive Relief: An agreement by your employer to stop engaging in the discriminatory practice.
Monetary Relief: The money that your employer agrees to pay out to you and others who have been adversely affected by its discriminatory practices.
Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) & Anti-Discrimination Policies: An agreement by your employer to publish and implement new work place policies to improve awareness of discrimination and decrease its occurrence.
Reporting, Record Keeping and Monitoring: Your employer agrees to have its compliance with the consent decree monitored, and also accepts the terms by which future complaints will be reported and dealt with.
Enforcement: Most consent decrees will have an enforcement provision laying out exactly how your employer will be bound to the terms of the agreement.
Release of Claims: In the provision of a consent decree, you (the employee) agree to release all claims that led to the formation of the consent decree. Essentially this means you cannot re-litigate any of the claims addressed by the consent decree.
What can Injunctive Relief do for me?
In the Injunctive Relief provision your employer agrees to abide by the rules and regulations of Title VII and other applicable federal/state anti-discrimination laws. These laws prohibit your employer from treating you differently because you are a woman. Sometimes this provision will include the particular ways in which the employer will alter its behavior (for example, hire 3 more women or create a human relations department and hire a director, etc.) however, this can also be inserted in the Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) provision of the consent decree.
What can Monetary Relief do for me?
Not all consent decrees contain provisions for monetary relief. However, those that do specify the amount of money your employer agrees to pay out to settle your discrimination claims. The method used in determining damages is rarely included in the actual consent decree, but the monetary figure can be very high (Jack in the Box consent decree agreed to pay four female plaintiffs $300,000). In addition to damages, parties will frequently negotiate attorney fees and court costs as part of the monetary relief.
Typically this monetary award is paid out only to the plaintiffs with whom the employer enters into the consent decree. Your employer may be willing to pay you money and settle the case if you have obviously been harmed in order to avoid the bad publicity and expense of going to court.
The damages available to you are capped under Title VII but they may be limitless under your state anti-discrimination statute. As you prepare to file a claim against your employer it is important to visit the WAGE website and discover what the different implications are for filing a complaint with your state anti-discrimination agency as opposed to with the local EEOC office.
What are Equal Employment Opportunities and how can they correct a discriminatory workplace?
In this provision of the consent decree your employer will agree to take concrete steps aimed at decreasing the occurrence of discrimination. These steps frequently include anti-discrimination training, an agreement to hire and/or recruit more women, and significant modifications to the Human Resources department to make it more responsive to employee complaints. Within this provision the employer is generally given a specific time period by which it is required to release and distribute a new non-discrimination policy, make all employees aware of it, and begin implementing the new policies.
Generally the specific policies that the employer will agree to adopt will be fleshed out in this provision of the consent decree, and almost always the employer agrees to distribute a non-discrimination policy throughout the workforce.
How do I know future complaints of discrimination will be handled any differently because of the consent decree?
Most consent decrees will contain a Reporting, Record Keeping and Monitoring provision that requires the employer to hire or contract with an individual who will be responsible for collecting, investigating, and monitoring all future complaints. Sometimes this is done ‘in house’ meaning within the Human Resources Department. Frequently in this section your employer may agree to create a HR department, make certain changes so that the HR department is more effective, or hire an outside consultant to monitor the company’s progress under the decree. Other times, your employer may bring in a third party to perform this role. Still other times, a court appointed monitor might be responsible for processing all future complaints.
How will the consent decree be enforced?
Through enforcement provisions the court will retain jurisdiction over the consent decree and all future disputes arising from it. Any future complaints arising out of the consent decree between you and your employer will automatically be subject to the court’s decisions. In some circumstances the court will appoint a third-party individual (court monitor) to keep track of the steps your employer is taking to ensure it abides by the terms of the agreement. The court monitor is responsible for checking in on the grievance officers or other individuals who are supposed to be implementing the consent decree.
What does it mean to ‘release my claims?’
All consent decrees will contain a provision making your acceptance of the consent decree conditional on an agreement not to re-litigate any of the claims that brought about the consent decree. This is necessary because a consent decree, unlike other forms of litigation, does not automatically prevent you from asserting the same claims against your employer.
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