By Meghan Droste, March 14, 2018
Those of you who have read my previous articles will not be surprised to learn that I am fairly detailed-oriented. Others may have a less flattering way of describing my occasionally obsessive interest in the details of things, but I like to think of it as a helpful trait. It improves the outcome of my baking projects and can lead to some fun trivia about The West Wing, the history of the British monarchy, or the origins of the phrase “the devil is in the details” (apparently unknown). It is also a good quality to have as a litigator.
The Commission recently provided us with a reminder of why the details can be so important when crafting and implementing a settlement agreement. In Nick N. v. Department of Labor, EEOC App. No. 0120171267 (January 26, 2018), the agency could have avoided the headache of a breach allegation and a subsequent appeal if it had paid attention to the details. In December 2015, the parties entered into a settlement agreement that provided that the agency would permanently reassign the complainant to the position of Senior Compliance Manager. In an attempt to implement the agreement, the agency initially placed the complainant in a temporary Special Assistant position. Special Assistant of course is not the same as Senior Compliance Manager, so the complainant’s counsel contacted the agency to request compliance with the agreement. The agency then placed the complainant in a Compliance Manager position.
The complainant filed a breach allegation with the agency because of its failure to place him in a Senior Compliance Manager position. The agency found there was no breach, concluding that it substantially complied with the agreement. On review, the Commission concluded that the agency had not substantially complied with the agreement. It noted that the agency had not provided a “satisfactory explanation” for its refusal to title the complainant’s position as Senior Compliance Manager. It went on to conclude that “[t]he Agency has, without explanation, decided to ignore the express language of the settlement agreement and limit Complainant’s official title to either ‘Compliance Manager’ or simply contrive another title for [c]omplainant’s position.” The Commission ordered the agency to place the complainant in a Senior Compliance Manager position or to provide “a clear explanation for any determination” that caused the agency to title the position as Compliance Manager and allow the complainant to accept the position or reject it and reinstate his complaint.
The agency could have avoided the time and expenses of addressing this issue if it had followed the specific details of the settlement agreement. While one word might not seem like much, it can make a big difference. Droste@FELTG.com