Tuesday, July 8, 2014
SCOTUS granted cert in EEOC v. Mach Mining, 738 F.3d 171 (7th Cir. 2013) involving an employer's procedural defense in a Title VII case in which the government alleged that the mining company had not hired any female miners since opening for business in 2006, despite having highly qualified applications. The Seventh Circuit ruled that "employers cannot challenge - and courts cannot review - the adequacy of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) informal pre-litigation efforts to bring employers into compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws."
The issue is "whether and to what extent a court may enforce the EEOC's mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 directs the EEOC to try to negotiate [42 USC § 2000e-5(b)] an end to an employer's unlawful employment practices before suing for a judicial remedy. Mach Mining sought dismissal of the EEOC's suit on the ground that the agency failed to engage in good-faith conciliation before filing. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that "an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of a discrimination suit."
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez stated that in the landmark ruling the Seventh Circuit "carefully applied the letter of the law." And it did so, Lopez explained, "in a way that promotes Title VII's goals, protects victims of discrimination, and preserves the EEOC's critical law-enforcement prerogatives. . . ." Title VII does require the EEOC to "endeavor to eliminate . . . alleged unlawful employment practice[s] by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion." However, the statute also plainly allows the Commission to sue the employer for discrimination if it "has been unable to secure from the respondent a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission."
One analysis of the underlying appellate decision calls it "truly a game changing decision" to hold that the alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of a discrimination suit. It predicted the the "potential for long-lasting implications" if the EEOC "can force its will on employers without any meaningful recourse to determine whether the EEOC’s conciliation efforts were made in good faith.:
On a broad scale, it seems the law of labor negotiations and the duty to bargain in good faith with its judicial oversight is set against the hands-off law of mediation and settlement negotiations.
More on the case here.