BASF Corporation will pay $500,000 to settle charges of retaliation at Cognis Corporation, a German company acquired by BASF in 2010, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Cognis required a longtime employee at its Kankakee, Illinois facility to sign a “last-chance agreement” prohibiting him from filing discrimination charges with the EEOC, even for future events. When the employee declined to sign, Cognis allegedly fired him.
According to the EEOC, Cognis urged five other employees to sign similar agreements. Those employees reportedly chose to sign rather than be terminated.
In addition to monetary damages, BASF agreed to report retaliation complaints to the EEOC for the next 2 years, provide relevant training, and inform employees of their right to oppose discrimination. BASF further agreed to allow the affected workers to talk freely about the case and reapply for work with the company.
“The EEOC has an inherent, institutional interest in maintaining open lines of communication with people who believe they may be victims of discrimination,” said John Hendrickson, EEOC regional attorney. “Employers who attempt to break that line of communication by dissuading employees from filing EEOC charges are breaking the law.”
John Rowe, EEOC district director, added, “Cognis presented the victims in this case with a terrible, illegal choice: lose your job or lose your civil rights. Under the law, no worker has to make that kind of choice. Employers would be better served by working to ensure that their employees are free from discrimination, rather than threatening their workers with termination in an effort to make sure that employees don't complain.”