In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held today that courts may only conduct a "relatively bare-bones review" of the EEOC's conciliation efforts.
"Today's decision puts the focus of the EEOC and the courts squarely on the merits of the discrimination claim," said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. "The EEOC remains committed to its successful conciliation efforts as a means of voluntarily resolving charges of workplace discrimination and this decision supports that process."
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez emphasized, "This unanimous decision is great news for victims of discrimination on whose behalf we are seeking relief -- and for the public, which ultimately benefits from our work. As the court noted, Title VII is about substantive outcomes. We are pleased the court rejected the intrusive review proposed by the company and its supporters. The court recognized that the scope of review is narrow and a sworn affidavit is generally sufficient to meet the statutory requirements. If the employer has concrete evidence that such efforts were not made and the court finds in favor of the employer, the remedy is further conciliation."
Chicago District Regional Attorney John Hendrickson, whose office handled the suit against Mach Mining in the district court, said, "The Supreme Court's decision brings to an end an era in which employers charged with discrimination could too often defend EEOC lawsuits by fighting about conciliation. This is a step forward for civil rights on the job and common sense in the administration of justice."
The decision today stems from the EEOC's lawsuit against Mach Mining, LLC, headquartered in Marion, Ill. The Commission 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.
The Supreme Court's decision today adopts a standard that requires only that the EEOC "afford the employer a chance to discuss and rectify a specified discriminatory practice." The court emphasized that "such limited review respects the expansive discretion that Title VII gives the EEOC over the conciliation process" but ensures that the Commission fulfills its obligation to conciliate. The court also highlighted that intrusive judicial review of conciliation would flout the confidentiality requirements in the statute and ultimately would undermine conciliation itself. The court concluded that courts reviewing conciliation efforts must not "impinge" on the Commission's latitude to conduct the type of conciliation it thinks reasonable in a particular case, or on its "responsibility to eliminate unlawful workplace discrimination."
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.