ECN regional meeting hears about EEOC search for systemic discrimination

September 2012

by Celeste Blackburn

CHICAGO — Employers Counsel Network (ECN) members from the upper Midwest met recently in Chicago to network, debate ideals, and learn about emerging trends in employment law. The regional meeting was attended by state Employment Law Letter editors, including Steve L. Brenneman and Suheily Natal from the host firm, the Chicago office of Ford & Harrison LLP; Greg A. Naylor, Jaki Samuelson, and Erik Fisk from Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C., in Iowa; Teresa L. Shulda from Foulston Siefkin LLP in Kansas; Bill Altman and Bob Vercruysse from Vercruysse Murray & Calzone, P.C, in Michigan; Dennis J. Merley from Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon and Vogt, P.A, in Minnesota; John A. Vering, Jennifer Arendes, and Vance D. Miller from Armstrong Teasdale LLP in Missouri; Lisa Edison-Smith and Leslie Oliver from Vogel Law Firm in North Dakota; Mark M. Schorr from Erickson & Sederstrom, P.C., in Nebraska; Sam R. Fulkerson and Sharolyn Whiting-Ralston from McAfee & Taft in Oklahoma; and Saul C. Glazer from Axley Brynelson, LLP, in Wisconsin. Representing Canada was Karen M. Sargeant from Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP in Toronto.

During the business session, the attorneys heard from Diane Smason, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, who presented “Hot Topics at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Her presentation included the following points:

  • The Chicago office is participating in a pilot program with the Department of Justice and/or the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to bring more pressure to bear on employer compliance with employment laws.
  • There is a new push to pursue systemic investigations, expanding the probes of individual charges. When an employee files a complaint with the agency, it could turn into a class action because the EEOC is now checking its nationwide database to see if the company has had other similar charges filed against it.
  • If the investigation turns into a systemic charge/investigation, the case isn’t eligible for the EEOC’s meditation program–even if the employee who filed the charge wants to settle through mediation.
  • When conducting investigations, EEOC agents look for “cues” that other charges should be investigated as well. So if a witness in a sexual harassment investigation mentions that “no minorities work here,” the investigation could be expanded to include race discrimination.

A lively question-and-answer session followed Smason’s presentation, with ECN attorneys quizzing her on systemic investigations as well as common EEOC practices like refusing to reveal a charge and asking for extensive information that becomes expensive for clients to produce.

For the second session, David Murray, editor of Vital Speeches of the Day (, presented “This is what leadership looks like: Vital Speeches’ speechwriting.” Murray emphasized that to connect with your audience, you must have a personal connection to your speech’s subject matter. Murray’s presentation included video footage of speeches that both made the connection and fell short, including examples from President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Rogers, and an Iowa teen testifying before his state legislature.

For the final session, ECN attorneys Vercruysse, Edison-Smith, and Merley joined forces to lead a panel addressing the hot-topic issues of the upcoming presidential election, the National Labor Relations Board, social media and Section 7 rights, and Smason’s EEOC presentation.