The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can be extremely aggressive. Anyone who has ever been targeted for an EEOC investigation knows just how intimidating it can be responding to requests for information, knowing that the agency has a reputation of engaging in wholesale fishing expeditions for violations that may have nothing to do with the initial complaint. But of course when you are dealing with EEOC you should be working carefully with a trusted employment law attorney both to ensure that you are taking the proper steps to protect your business interests, and because it may be possible to object to certain burdensome requests.
Case in point, EEOC initiated an investigation of the McLane Company after an employee filed a complaint alleging sex discrimination. But rather than focusing on that employee’s claim EEOC began requesting information about many other employees, and began investigating potential age discrimination issues. Yet at the end of the day when the employer objected to certain requests for information, a federal district court sided with the employer—refusing to enforce EEOC’s subpoenas because it thought the agency’s requested information was not relevant to EEOC’s claim of age discrimination.
This is where things got interesting because the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals overturned that decision—so as to force the employer to comply with EEOC’s subpoena. Unfortunately, that’s usually the end of the road in a case like this. But in this case the McLane Company managed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.
And just last week the Supreme Court handed-down a decision holding that the Ninth Circuit had exceeded its authority in reversing the District Court’s decision. The decision makes clear that a District Court’s decision whether to enforce or quash a subpoena is reviewed only for “abuse of discretion,” which generally means that a District Court decision siding with the employer will be upheld in a case of this sort. That’s welcome news not only for the McLane Company, but to any business facing an aggressive EEOC investigation. It means that its now a little easier—at least in terms of litigation costs—to quash an EEOC subpoena.
For those interested, here is the brief NFIB Small Business Legal Center filed in this case.