Toronto In long established practice when unions prove conclusively that companies have broken the National Labor Relations Act and unjustly discriminated against a worker for union activity through discipline or termination, and there is a settlement, the company signs a “non-admissions” statement, saying that they are not admitting guilt even though they are promising not to do evil in the future or are reinstating the worker to her job. Having experienced this scores of times, it is often a hollow victory, since the company within days will be maintaining to workers that in essence they had their fingers crossed and were really innocent but settled just to save money and get the union off their backs.
In response to the fact that federal judges have been increasingly critical of the Securities Exchange Commission policy of letting big companies off with this kind of hand slap, the new Chair of the SEC, Mary Jo White, seems to finally be backing away from non-admissions. According to reports of a memo to enforcement staff of the SEC:
In a departure from long-established practice, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, said this week that defendants would no longer be allowed to settle some cases while “neither admitting nor denying” wrongdoing. “In the interest of public accountability, you need admissions” in some cases, Ms. White told me. “Defendants are going to have to own up to their conduct on the public record,” she said. “This will help with deterrence, and it’s a matter of strengthening our hand in terms of enforcement.”
Seems like common sense doesn’t it? Why shouldn’t this kind of policy shift for exactly the same reasons be true in other federal enforcement agencies, like the NLRB for workers’ rights? God knows we need more public accountability and companies that are discriminating against the rights of workers under the law should have to “own up to their conduct” in those situations as well.
The flood tide of lawyers overwhelming governmental bureaucracies has had the effect of too often drowning out the rights and entitlements of citizens, whether workers or investors or whatever, simply because big companies can always threaten to stall, obfuscate, and run up the costs for everyone with their “justice delayed is justice denied” standard operating procedures. The NLRB, the EEOC, the SEC, and a host of others need to start suiting up for citizen and workers’ rights and making sure that when the big boys do wrong they are required to fess up, rather than whitewash the matter and return the next day to “business as usual.” The non-admissions clause in settlements should become a distant, painful memory, not an ever present part of government action and play-pretend enforcement agencies.