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Supreme Court Requires Narrow Proof of EEOC Conciliation Efforts

    Client Alerts
  • May 01, 2015
On Wednesday, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court agreed that federal courts have authority to review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s attempts to conciliate discrimination charges when the agency concludes that the employer violated federal civil rights laws. Title VII and related laws require the EEOC to engage in “conciliation” attempts to resolve the matter. In some recent cases, employers have accused the agency of making only perfunctory attempts at settlement before rushing to sue the employer.

When employers raise these objections in federal district court, the EEOC has argued that courts do not have the authority to review the substance of their conciliation efforts, and that they can only require the agency to confirm that it has attempted to settle the matter. In Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC, the employer argued for a very different standard of review. Noting Title VII’s emphasis on settlement efforts, the employer argued that the Court should adopt a standard of review that requires the EEOC to demonstrate good-faith efforts to conciliate through a checklist of settlement procedures.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court rejected both of these arguments, opting instead for an intermediate standard of review. First, the Court confirmed that federal courts have the statutory authority to review EEOC conciliation efforts, and that this authority means more than having the agency promise that it tried. However, the Supreme Court also rejected subjecting the EEOC to a detailed code of conduct in its conciliation efforts.

Instead, the EEOC must take two steps in conciliation. First, it must provide employers with specific information about its conclusions as to the employer’s misconduct, and the effect of such misconduct on employees. Second, the EEOC must try to engage the employer in a discussion that would result in the employer remedying the alleged discriminatory conduct. The EEOC would typically provide an affidavit certifying these steps, and the employer has the opportunity to provide evidence that these steps were not taken. If the district court finds for the employer, it must return the matter to the EEOC until appropriate conciliation efforts conclude.

Practically, this decision may delay the EEOC’s rush to litigation. At a minimum, employers facing cause determinations should be given a full opportunity to understand those findings, and an explanation of what steps the EEOC views as necessary to resolve them. Hopefully, this will provide an opportunity for resolution of some EEOC charges prior to litigation.