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EEOC wins summary judgment in retaliation case against BASF unit


URBANA, Ill.—A federal judge has ruled that a BASF Corp. unit unlawfully retaliated against an employee for refusing to waive his rights to file a discrimination charge, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

The lawsuit was filed by the EEOC in August 2010 against Cognis Corp., which was acquired in December 2010 by Florham, N.J.-based BASF Corp., a North American affiliate of Ludwigshafen, Germany-based chemical company BASF S.E.

A summary judgment ruling by Judge Michael P. McCuskey of U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in Urbana, announced Wednesday, was issued May 23.

The EEOC charged Cognis with retaliating against Steven Whitlow, a 19-year employee in its Kankakee, Ill., facility, by requiring him to sign a “last-chance” employment agreement that prohibited him from filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC, even if it was based on conduct that might occur in the future.

The court found the company fired Mr. Whitlow when he refused to be bound by the agreement. The EEOC said the only remaining issue for trial with regard to Mr. Whitlow is the amount of damages due to him.

The EEOC also charged that a class of employees who signed similar last-chance agreements was also retaliated against, because Cognis forced the workers to make a choice between termination and signing. The court denied the EEOC's summary judgment motion for these employees, and those claims will now proceed to trial, the EEOC said.


EEOC Chicago district director John Rowe said in a statement, “Filing EEOC charges? is a fundamental right of American employees, and this agency always stands ready to protect that fight. This court’s opinion should cause employers to remember that seeking to dissuade employees from exercising that right is not only bad policy, it’s a violation of federal law which can give rise to very substantial liability.”

BASF said in a statement that it “respectfully disagrees with the Court’s ruling with respect to Mr. Whitlow and is evaluating its immediate options. BASF Corp. is deeply committed to equal employment opportunity and takes its responsibilities for compliance with all federal, state and local laws seriously. This commitment includes maintaining a vigorous compliance program to ensure our high standards are met consistently throughout the organization.”

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