Bloomberg Sex-Bias Suit Gutted for Agency Slipup
MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal agency doomed its discrimination case against Bloomberg LP by failing to investigate and attempt settling its claims, a federal judge ruled.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began to probe the media giant in 2007 after receiving complaints of "pervasive bias" against women who had returned from maternity leave. Such a reputation has hounded the company's billionaire owner, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, since a 1997 lawsuit alleged that he told a pregnant sales executive to "kill it."
While Bloomberg settled the earlier lawsuit on undisclosed terms, the EEOC insisted on bringing the more recent one to court.
In a pair of rulings dismissing the bulk of these claims on Monday, however, Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska slammed the agency as too quick to litigate.
Her first ruling dismisses the claims of all 29 nonintervenor plaintiffs represented by the agency. The second upholds certain discrimination and retaliation claims for one of six intervening plaintiffs.
The media giant's president Daniel Doctoroff opined that the dismissals showed that the "case should not have been brought in the first place."
"Bloomberg is a great place to work and throughout our history we have been well-known for offering some of the most generous employee benefits and policies in corporate America," Doctoroff said in a statement.
Preska indicated, however, that her decision had more to do with punishing the EEOC's pretrial behavior than vindicating Bloomberg LP's work environment.
"The court does not impose this severe sanction lightly and recognizes that certain of the non-intervenor claims may be meritorious but now will never see the inside of a courtroom," Preska wrote in the first ruling. "However, the court finds that allowing the EEOC to revisit conciliation at this stage of the case - after shirking its pre-litigation investigation responsibilities and spurning Bloomberg's offer of conciliation and instead engaging in extensive discovery to develop the non-intervenor claims - already has and would further prejudice Bloomberg."
On June 27, 2007, EEOC had offered Bloomberg LP the opportunity to prevent litigation by paying more than $18 million for three individual claims, and a $7.5 million pool for those similarly situated.
Rejecting that proposal, Bloomberg proposed with a counteroffer of $65,000 for each of the charging parties, and refused to establish a "claim fund" without more information about the claimants.
"The next day, the EEOC sent Bloomberg a letter declaring that conciliation has been unsuccessful and that further conciliation efforts would be futile," the court summarized.
Preska minced no words in criticizing the agency's course of action.
"The EEOC may bring any claims reasonably related to the charge it investigated," she wrote. "But such a principle does not grant the EEOC authority to abdicate its statutory responsibility to provide sufficient notice and pursue a pre-suit resolution in good faith."
The agency's spokeswoman Justine Lisser replied in a statement: "The EEOC is reviewing the decision carefully and considering next steps."