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It is a rare Supreme Court case where employers and arguably employees both won (and the Court doesn’t “split the baby” and rule partially in favor of each party). In Mach Mining v. EEOC the only clear losing party is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The Supreme Court held unanimously that a court may review whether the EEOC satisfied its statutory obligation to attempt to conciliate employment discrimination claims before filing a lawsuit.
The Court’s decision is favorable to employers, including state and local governments, who benefit from the EEOC’s statutory mandate to try to resolve employment discrimination cases before suing employers. If the EEOC fails to try to conciliate employers may sue the EEOC. Employees benefit from conciliation because it is faster and less demanding that litigation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires the EEOC to use informal methods of “conference, conciliation, and persuasion” to eliminate an unlawful employment practice before it sues the employer for discrimination. In this case the EEOC found reasonable cause that Mach Mining discriminated against a class of women who applied for mining jobs. Mach Mining claimed that the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith before suing it. The EEOC responded that its conciliation efforts are not subject to judicial review.
While the Court held that a court may review whether EEOC satisfied its obligation to conciliate, review is narrow. According to the Court, a “strong presumption” favors judicial review of administrative action. This presumption isn’t rebutted in this case because courts routinely enforce other compulsory prerequisite requirements to bringing a Title VII lawsuit, for example, a plaintiff must file a timely charge.
Regarding the scope of the court’s review, the EEOC argued the court should merely review its letters stating that it found reasonable cause of discrimination and that conciliation occurred and failed. Mach Mining argued for what Justice Kagan described as a “deep dive” into the conciliation process. The Court rejected both suggestions as inconsistent with Title VII. Instead, per the statutory requirements, a court should determine “that the EEOC afford[ed] the employer a chance to discuss and rectify a specified discriminatory practice.” Unless an employer provides credible evidence to the contrary, “[a] sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed the obligations noted above but that its efforts have failed will usually suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement.”
While employers didn’t get everything they asked for in this decision, it is still a win for employers – and for employees who benefit from conciliation instead of litigation.
About the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.