The United States Supreme Court today slammed the brakes on lawsuits started by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Specifically, the Court ruled that because the EEOC has a statutory duty to attempt conciliation before suing, the courts have authority to review whether the EEOC has fulfilled that duty. Giving courts the authority to review EEOC conciliation should stifle what some believe was the EEOC’s overly zealous litigation strategy.
The case is Mach Mining, LLC v EEOC, which started as a Title VII sex discrimination charge against the company. During its investigation, the EEOC found probable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred. The agency then invited the company to participate in conciliation to resolve the dispute. The agency also said that a representative would contact them to start the process. A year later the EEOC sent another letter saying that conciliation had been unsuccessful. The EEOC then sued the company.
In response to the lawsuit, Mach Mining argued that the EEOC had not attempted to conciliate in good faith before suing them. This argument was based on Title VII’s requirement that before suing, the EEOC must “endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.” The EEOC countered by arguing that the courts do not have the power to decide whether or not the agency makes such an effort. The agency also argued that even if the courts have that power, its two letters to Mach Mining met that standard.
The Court agreed with Mach Mining and held that the courts have the authority to review whether or not pre-suit conciliation was adequate. Specifically, the Court noted that:
Judicial review of administrative action is the norm in our legal system, and nothing in Title VII withdraws the courts’ authority to determine whether the EEOC has fulfilled its duty to attempt conciliation of claims.
The Court then went on to establish a judicial process for making this determination:
- A sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed its conciliation obligations but that its efforts have failed will usually suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement.
- If the employer then provides credible evidence of its own, in the form of an affidavit or otherwise, indicating that the EEOC did not provide the requisite information about the charge or attempt to engage in a discussion about conciliating the claim, a court must conduct the fact-finding necessary to decide that limited dispute.
- Should the court find in favor of the employer, the appropriate remedy is to order the EEOC to undertake the mandated efforts to obtain voluntary compliance.
By adding this level of judicial oversight to the EEOC charge process, those faced with Title VII discrimination charges should now have greater assurance that the EEOC will work harder to resolve those charges informally before rushing to the courthouse.
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