May 28, 2015
By unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court held that courts may now review whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) satisfactorily engaged in conciliation efforts with employers. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC must attempt to remedy an unlawful employment practice through a conciliation process before bringing a lawsuit for discrimination. Now, courts may review whether the EEOC has complied with its obligation to use informal methods of dispute resolution.
In Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC (2015) 2015 U.S. Lexis 2984, a woman filed a charge alleging Mach Mining would not hire her as a coal miner because of her sex. The EEOC investigated and found reasonable cause to believe the woman’s claim. The EEOC then sent a letter to Mach Mining announcing its determination and invited the company and the woman to engage in an informal dispute resolution process. A year later, the EEOC sent Mach Mining a second letter stating that conciliation efforts were unsuccessful. The EEOC then sued Mach Mining for sex discrimination in hiring. In response, Mach Mining argued that the EEOC had failed to conciliate in good faith prior to filing the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court analyzed Title VII, which imposes a mandatory duty on the EEOC to attempt conciliation of a discrimination charge prior to filing a lawsuit. The Court noted that this is a necessary precondition to filing a lawsuit. While the law provides the EEOC with wide discretion over the conciliation process, whether the process actually occurred may be reviewed by the courts. To satisfy its statutory obligation, the EEOC must inform the employer about the claim and provide the employer with an opportunity to confer. The Court concluded judicial review was appropriate because, without such review, compliance with the law would be left to the discretion of the EEOC alone.
The Court next looked to the scope of the review. The EEOC argued that courts should rely on a facial examination of EEOC documents, while Mach Mining argued that the same standards imposed in union bargaining be applied. The Court accepted neither argument and found that the level of review should match Title VII’s language. That is, the review should ensure that the EEOC gave the employer a chance to discuss and remedy the discriminatory practice. Courts will not look to the content of the discussions, merely that such discussions occurred. The Supreme Court further found that the EEOC’s two letters to Mach Mining were not enough to show compliance with the law. The Court suggested the EEOC also provide an affidavit stating that it has performed its obligations. However, if an employer submits credible evidence indicating the EEOC has not engaged in the conciliation process, the court may then review and decide the dispute. If the court sides with the employer, the EEOC must undertake the conciliation process. Therefore, the Supreme Court has made clear that lower courts may review whether the EEOC has complied with Title VII’s requirement that it engage in conciliation efforts to resolve discriminatory employment practices.
Despite the fact that Mach Mining is a favorable ruling for employers, the Court gives EEOC an out by imposing a remedy that allows the conciliation process to occur after the lawsuit is filed, despite the EEOC’s initial failure to engage in the process. Ultimately, Mach Mining makes clear that the EEOC cannot cut corners during its investigation and dispute resolution phases, but it must go through the conciliation process
If you have any questions regarding the Mach Mining decision, or other questions regarding the EEOC, please contact one of our nine offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or download our Client News Brief App.
Mark K. Kitabayashi
Los Angeles Office
Frances M. Valdez
Walnut Creek Office
©2015 Lozano Smith
As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.