Judge Holds Federal Agency May Pursue Issue of Hiring Discrimination After Complaint That Quantum Foods Fired Hispanic Man Because of His National Origin
CHICAGO – Federal District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly has ordered that Bolingbrook, Ill.-based Quantum Foods, LLC must provide information and documents regarding its hiring and recruiting practices and procedures at its suburban Chicago facility in response to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) administrative subpoena, the agency announced today.
The subpoena was issued in connection with an EEOC investigation stemming from a charge of discrimination filed by a Hispanic employee contending that he had been fired because of his national origin. The court rejected Quantum’s contention that the EEOC could not obtain hiring data because the terminated employee had not alleged “that he was discriminated against in the hiring process.” (EEOC v. Quantum Foods, LLC, N.D. Illinois No. 09 C 7741, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 4/26/2010, M. Kennelly, D.J.)
In holding that Quantum Foods could not avoid compliance with the EEOC subpoena, Judge Kennelly noted that “because administrative subpoena enforcement proceedings ‘are designed to be summary in nature,’ a court’s oversight role is limited,” and that the “Seventh Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] has acknowledged that in cases of wrongful termination the EEOC may investigate an employer’s job classification and hiring practices.”
The court also rejected the company’s contention that EEOC was seeking information and documents for too long a period, writing “Though a charge must be filed within three hundred days of the discriminatory conduct, the EEOC is not limited to information within that period [and] it is not unreasonable for the EEOC to seek four years of information to investigate the charge.”
Quantum’s contention that confidentiality concerns justified its non-compliance also was rejected by the court. Confidentiality, Judge Kennelly, wrote, “is no excuse for non-compliance since Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] imposes criminal penalties for EEOC personnel who publicize information obtained in the course of investigat[ions]. . . . Congress has made the choice.”
John Hendrickson, EEOC regional attorney in Chicago, said, “The court in this case rejected a series of what the EEOC believes are discredited routine defenses, but which some employers still attempt to raise when confronted with EEOC subpoenas. Such defenses appear to us at the EEOC to be among the least productive approaches to dealing with EEOC investigations, yielding only delay and expense. For that reason, we are pleased that the court recognized that EEOC subpoena enforcement actions are summary in nature, and will not support extended litigation.”
The EEOC subpoena enforcement action is being litigated by Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason and Trial Attorney Ann Henry, and the administrative investigation is being managed by Chicago District Director John Rowe.
“It’s no secret,” Rowe said, “that the EEOC is looking to challenge systemic employment discrimination where we find it, and that must be one of our potential concerns in cases like this. So it’s important that we get subpoenas issued whenever necessary and that we move to get them enforced in court expeditiously. That’s what we have been attempting to do here.”
Ann Henry added, “There are a few remaining issues related to what must be produced under the subpoena which Judge Kennelly has proposed to decide after what he has described as ‘a brief evidentiary hearing’ for which he will set a date on May 10, and we’ll be ready to go on that. But the real import of yesterday’s decision is that Quantum is going to have to comply with the thrust of the subpoena or face contempt, and the EEOC investigation is going to be on track and moving ahead—including on the issue of discrimination in hiring.”
On its web-site (www.quantumfoods.com), the company describes itself as having “evolved from a portion cut steak provider into one of the world’s largest multiple protein providers to foodservice, military, and retail,” and states that it has “nearly 1,500 employees working in two production plants and one distribution center on [its] Bolingbrook, Illinois campus.”
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.