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PRESS RELEASE
2-7-14

EEOC Sues CVS to Preserve Employee Access to the Legal System

Federal Agency Takes Action to Ensure That Employees Retain the Right to File Discrimination Charges and Communicate With the EEOC

CHICAGO - CVS, the nation's largest integrated provider of prescriptions and health-related services, unlawfully violated employees' right to communicate with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and file discrimination charges, the federal agency claimed in a lawsuit filed today.  

According to the EEOC, CVS conditioned the receipt of severance benefits for certain employees on an overly broad severance agreement set forth in five pages of small print.  The agreement interfered with employees' right to file discrimination charges and/or communicate and cooperate with the EEOC, the agency said.  

Interfering with these employee rights violates Section 707 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employer conduct that constitutes a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII, the EEOC said.  Section 707 permits the agency to seek immediate relief without the same pre-suit administrative process that is required under Section 706 of Title VII, and does not require that the agency's suit arise from a discrimination charge.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (EEOC v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., Civil Action No. 14 C 0863).  The suit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah. Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson will lead the agency's litigation effort, along with Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour, and Trial Attorneys Deborah Hamilton and Laura Feldman. 

"Charges and communication with employees play a critical role in the EEOC's enforcement process because they inform the agency of employer practices that might violate the law," explained Hendrickson.  "For this reason, the right to communicate with the EEOC is a right that is protected by federal law.  When an employer attempts to limit that communication, the employer effectively is attempting to buy employee silence about potential violations of the law.  Put simply, that is a deal that employers cannot lawfully make."

EEOC District Director Jack Rowe added, "The agency's most recent Strategic Enforcement Plan identified 'preserving access to the legal system' as one of the EEOC's six strategic enforcement priorities.  That was no accident.  The importance of employees' ability to participate in the agency's process, free from fear of adverse consequences, cannot be overstated.  It is always difficult for an employee to report employer discrimination to federal law enforcement officials.  Anything that makes that communication harder increases the risk that discrimination will go unremedied."

Gochanour said, "This statutory mechanism gives the agency the ability to take action even where an employee might not have been able to reach out to the agency and file a charge.  In this case, the EEOC believes that numerous employees were subject to the overly broad release, and we are seeking to end these unlawful practices - as well as ensure the necessary safeguards to prevent further wrongdoing."  

The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for investigating and resolving 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.