E-Alert Case Updates
Courts May Review Whether the EEOC Has Met Statutory Obligation to Conciliate Discrimination Claims
Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC
In Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC No. 13–1019 (Supreme Court of the United States, April 29, 2015), the Supreme Court held that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) conciliation efforts may be judicially reviewed.
The employer (“Mach Mining”) was accused of sex-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A female job applicant filed a complaint with the EEOC. After the EEOC found there was reasonable cause to believe the employer had discriminated against the applicant, they issued a letter inviting the parties to engage in informal conciliation and notified them that a representative of the EEOC would contact them to begin this process. The EEOC has a statutory requirement to conciliate and try to settle cases before initiating a lawsuit under Title VII. The employer claimed it did not hear back until the EEOC determined that conciliation efforts had failed. After a lawsuit was filed, the employer claimed the EEOC failed to make a good faith effort to engage in “informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion,” as required by Title VII.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether the EEOC’s efforts to conciliate or settle discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were subject to judicial review. The district court found that the EEOC’s efforts were subject to judicial review. The Seventh Circuit reversed and found that the efforts were not subject to judicial review. The Supreme Court, in its 9-0 opinion, agreed with the district court and found that the EEOC’s efforts were subject to judicial review, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Thus, the Supreme Court has granted employers a way, albeit a limited way, of challenging and fighting suits filed by the EEOC.
The Supreme Court held that the scope of judicial review is narrow due to the “expansive discretion” given to the EEOC under Title VII. Moreover, because the statute does not expressly state that the agency has the power to police itself, there is a strong presumption in favor of judicial review. Ultimately, the review is to be “relatively barebones . . . enforcing only the EEOC’s statutory obligation to give the employer notice and an opportunity to achieve voluntary compliance.” Moreover, a sworn affidavit from the EEOC indicating that the agency has notified the employer of the specific allegation and allowed the employer the opportunity to remedy the alleged discriminatory practice, suffice to fulfill the EEOC’s obligations under Title VII. If an employer provides evidence that the EEOC either: (1) did not provide the requisite information about the charge; or (2) did not attempt to engage in a discussion about conciliating the claim, then the court may engage in judicial review. In the case where the EEOC does not meet these criteria, the relief would be to stay the proceeding while the agency meets its obligation to conciliate. Thus, the relief to employers is limited.
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