Monday, April 17, 2006, 4/17/2006 01:41:00 PM

What Does the EEOC Know About Misappropriation Defenses?

By Todd
Anyone who routinely advises employers of their legal obligations knows that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal administrative agency charged with receiving, investigating and occasionally litigating discrimination complaints made by current and former employees of public and private entities. The EEOC has a tough task - they have to take all the complaints and investigate those that are meritorious and meritless alike. Their investigators and attorneys are usually skilled analysts of federal anti-discrimination laws. Those same agents, however, are not usually skilled in other areas of law and that could cause a problem when they decide to take a case against an employer which has some counter-claims of its own against its departed employee.

That's why the case of E.E.O.C. v. Vanguard Group, Inc., 2006 WL 931613 (E.D. Pa., April 10, 2006) (slip copy) is rather interesting. Seems the EEOC felt Vanguard had violated the federally-based employment rights of Mr. Ross, an African-American information engineer whom Vanguard once employed. Mr. Ross had apparently developed some computer programs during his employment with Vanguard and Mr. Ross said he developed the computer programs on his own time and Vanguard disputed that. The dispute got so heated it resulted in Mr. Ross's termination. Mr. Ross filed charges against Vanguard with the EEOC and ultimately the EEOC brought suit against Vanguard for violations of the federal anti-discrimination laws. Vanguard ultimately counter-sued for copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets and the like.

The reported decision we refer to above is the Court's treatment of the EEOC's motion to dismiss these intellectual property sounding counterclaims. The trial court denied the EEOC's motions in their entirety and told Mr. Ross and the EEOC "your answer to the counterclaims is due in twenty (20) days." Should be an interesting piece of litigation with the EEOC probably needing to call in experienced defense counsel (will the EEOC pay for that? we doubt it) to defend the counterclaims made by Vanguard. We've gotta say to Vanguard - we tip our hats to you for putting the EEOC in a place they don't like to be and we believe this could be an interesting case to watch as it winds its way through the discovery and trial process. The EEOC loves mediation and it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of that mediation to see if the EEOC will learn that there are real distinctions between making someone else dance to your tune and having to learn a few quick steps of your own while the other side's band is playing.

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