Child care center disputes $40,000 EEOC settlement to former worker

But who actually pays -- and how much -- has become a point of contention.

Starr's Mill Academy and Preschool Center and its former attorney, Nicholas Garcia, signed an agreement saying they would pay to settle the case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But now, Starr’s Mill Academy says it isn’t paying. Owners Glenn and Ramell Dinofer said, through their attorney this week, that obligation belongs to Garcia. The Dinofers claim Garcia gave them bad legal advice. They allege Garcia told them to sue the woman for defamation because they felt she’d made false statements about their company in the discrimination charge she filed with the EEOC, according to Matt Moffett, an Atlanta attorney who now represents the day care center.

"They have not paid anything and will not," said Moffett, an attorney with Gray Rust St. Amand Moffett & Brieske. "They didn't break the law. This was a resolution of a disputed claim to avoid further and unnecessary legal expenses and prolonged litigation."

Hazel Matthews-Forte filed an EEOC charge of discrimination soon after she was fired in February 2009, claiming she was let go because of her age, disability and other matters.
Starr's Mill filed its lawsuit against Matthews-Forte in December of that year, claiming her allegations were false and were causing the Dinofers emotional distress. Attempts to reach Matthews-Forte were unsuccessful.

Garcia said Friday he would be paying. When asked if he was responsible for paying most of the money, Garcia said the decree didn’t allow him to discuss details of the case.

Both Starr’s Mill Academy and Garcia signed the consent decree to pay as part of settling the case, according to EEOC regional attorney Robert Dawkins. The division of that payment was supposed to have been worked out before they signed the consent decree, Dawkins said. Signing the consent decree is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.

“[The consent decree] doesn’t break down who pays what. That’s between them,” Dawkins said. They have until the end of the month to pay or the court could step in and order them to pay, Dawkins added.

Aside from the squabbling, the case is rare in its own right because it involves an employer suing a worker for filing an EEOC claim.

"We don't encounter this often," Dawkins said. "The fact they filed a lawsuit against the woman is curious itself. I've only seen that happen twice in 26 years. It's unusual because it's an obvious violation of federal statutes. You know you can't retaliate against people for filing a charge."

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