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Second Circuit Will Not Review Adequacy of EEOC Investigation

    Client Alerts
  • October 19, 2015
In its most recent term, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the Mach Mining case that federal courts have limited ability to review whether or not the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fulfilled its statutory duty to attempt to conciliate discrimination claims prior to initiating litigation. Last month, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals refused to extend this line of reasoning to court review of the EEOC’s initial investigation of the discrimination allegations.

In EEOC v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc. the agency alleged that the employer discriminated against female employees with regard to pay and promotions. The defendant obtained summary judgment from the federal district court based on its argument that the agency had not engaged in a good faith, fair or complete investigation of the claims prior to suing the employer. The EEOC appealed, arguing that its initial investigation is not subject to judicial review, and that allowing such review would force the agency to document and defend each step taken in reviewing each of the tens of thousands of charges annually filed.

The Second Circuit agreed with the EEOC, remanding the matter for further proceedings on its merits. The court noted that like the conciliation requirement, federal antidiscrimination laws require the EEOC to conduct an investigation. However, judicial review of such investigations by federal courts remains severely limited. The agency must confirm that it has conducted an investigation, but its limited resources do not permit courts to delve into the substance of the investigation or to second guess the EEOC’s findings.

Employers are often frustrated by the lack of quality, thoroughness and logical reasoning that result from the EEOC’s discrimination investigations. This case demonstrates however, that such frustrations will not form the basis for court review of the adequacy of the agency’s work. Employers must rely on the merits of their case to rebut unfounded claims of employment discrimination.