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EEOC Suit Against Firm Reinstated

June 26, 2003|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

A federal appeals court has reinstated a sexual harassment lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a Pasadena law firm, reversing a lower court judge who had accused the government agency of "unreasonable and just plain mean-spirited" conduct.

In a 2-1 ruling disclosed Wednesday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also set aside the judge's order that required the EEOC to pay more than $363,000 in legal costs incurred by the law firm, Reeves and Associates.

The EEOC had charged that a dozen female employees were sexually harassed by the firm's founder, Robert L. Reeves, or were fired because they were pregnant. Several women contended that they were subjected to inappropriate touching, leering and sexual remarks. Reeves denied the allegations.

U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian dismissed the EEOC suit last year, saying that only three of the claims had any validity and accusing the agency of using heavy-handed tactics.

The EEOC, which is charged with enforcing federal laws against workplace discrimination, is supposed to resolve cases through conciliation before resorting to lawsuits. Tevrizian said the agency had laid down conditions that doomed the conciliation process from the start.

He said the commission had demanded $1 million in damages to settle the case, but had refused to disclose the names of all the alleged victims. When the law firm balked, he said, the EEOC declared the conciliation a failure and took the case to court. Commission staffers denied having sabotaged the talks.

Although the appeals court did not comment on the conciliation efforts, the majority opinion concluded that the commission had sufficient grounds for bringing the lawsuit.

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