A federal appeals court has dealt a blow to employers that disagree with the findings of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  investigations.  

In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that employers cannot challenge — and courts can’t review —  the adequacy of the EEOC informal pre-litigation efforts to bring employers into compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws.

The court ruled that federal law conveys complete discretion to the agency to engage in these “conciliation” efforts.  Therefore, the Seventh Circuit ruled, employers cannot seek to dismiss EEOC lawsuits by arguing that the agency inadequately “conciliated” before filing its lawsuit.

The decision stems from the EEOC’s lawsuit against Mach Mining, LLC, headquartered in Marion, Ill.  The agency had sued Mach Mining in September 2011, alleging that the company violated Title VII by failing to hire any female miners since beginning operations in 2006, despite having received applications from many highly qualified women.

Mach Mining chose to defend against these allegations in part by criticizing the EEOC for inadequately conciliating the matter before suing.  The EEOC moved for partial summary judgment with respect to Mach Mining’s so-called affirmative defense that the Commission had failed to properly conciliate before filing its complaint in court.  The district court denied the EEOC’s motion for partial summary judgment, but allowed the EEOC to take an interlocutory appeal.

Title VII does require the EEOC to “endeavor to eliminate . . . alleged unlawful employment practice[s] by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.”  But the statute also plainly allows the Commission to sue the employer for discrimination if it “has been unable to secure from the respondent a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission.”

“It would be difficult for Congress to have packed more deference to agency decision-making into so few lines of text,” the judges wrote.  Also, the court reasoned, the law provides absolutely no guidelines enabling courts to judge whether the Commission’s conciliation attempts were adequate, stating that “we are not tempted to send district courts down such a dimly lighted path.”

Failing to attempt to conciliate would undermine the law enforcement goals of the anti-discrimination statutes, the court added.  It would “tempt employers to turn what was meant to be an informal negotiation into the subject of endless disputes over whether the EEOC did enough before going to court” – disputes which impose significant costs on both sides, as well as on courts.

Post Your Resume to 65+ Job Sites
Resume Service

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post