Eric Baker, a soon-to-be employee of Waffle House, Inc., signed an employment contract in 1990 that included an agreement to settle potential disputes or claims by binding arbitration – meaning, with no access to a court. Baker, tasked as a grill operator, worked only 16 days before suffering a seizure at work. He was promptly fired from his job. Baker filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Agency (“EEOC”) alleging that his discharge violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The EEOC requested the court grant backpay, reinstatement, and compensatory damages, and to award punitive damages for malicious and reckless conduct. This request, however, was rejected as the Fourth Circuit Court, which sided with Waffle House Inc. in its petition under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) arguing that Baker’s employment contract lacked the arbitration provision.
EEOC v. Waffle House was brought to the Supreme Court, and the National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) supported Baker. NWC’s amicus brief argues that the Federal Arbitration Act does not displace the EEOC’s administrative authority to determine the appropriate remedy necessary to effectuate federal policy in a discrimination case. In vehement disagreement with the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision, NWC argued that the EEOC has a “Congressionally mandated duty to effectuate the national policy of eliminating the harms caused by illegal discrimination.” Furthermore, NWC noted that by affirming the lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court would be destroying the twenty statutes and federal agencies — such as the EEOC — created to eradicate illegal employer action.
Thus, when addressing the power dynamic between the Federal Arbitration Act and the Equal Employer Opportunity Agency — in relation to effectuating federal policy in a discrimination case — the Supreme Court, reversed the judgment of the Fourth Circuit.
“Congress expanded the remedies available to the EEOC enforcement actions in 1991 to include compensatory and punitive damages. There is no language in the statute or in either of these cases suggesting that the existence of an arbitration agreement between private parties materially changes the EEOC’s statutory function or the remedies that are otherwise available”
Eric Baker prevailed in the Supreme Court against Waffle House Inc.