In last year’s Mach Mining decision, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is required to attempt to settle (“conciliate”) discrimination claims before bringing suit against the employer. However, the Court limited federal courts’ ability to review the substance of such settlement negotiations. On March 14, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted these limitations to reject claims that the EEOC is required to conciliate individual members of a proposed class action claim.
In Arizona Ex Rel. Horne v. The Geo Group, the EEOC and the Arizona state deferral agency investigated sexual harassment claims brought by an individual charging party. Their determination found cause to believe that the individual and a class of similarly situated female employees had been harassed. During conciliation, the employer asked the EEOC to identify the individual class members, but the agency refused. The parties were unable to settle the individual or class claims, and the EEOC subsequently filed a class action lawsuit.
The employer obtained dismissal of the class claims by the district court on the basis that the EEOC had failed to individually conciliate the claims before bringing the class action. The Ninth Circuit rejected this position, concluding that Mach Mining only requires the EEOC to conciliate on behalf of the class prior to initiating litigation. The Supreme Court never mentioned any individual conciliation obligation in its opinion. Requiring the EEOC to conciliate on behalf of each member to a class action would result in an unwieldy process, and one that would effectively bar additions to the class after filing of the lawsuit.
The Ninth Circuit also rejected a number of procedural objections raised by the employer dealing with timely filing of EEOC charges, and concluded that each class member does not have to file a separate EEOC charge for the class action to proceed. This case demonstrates that federal courts will not use Mach Mining’s limited conciliation requirements to place much of a burden on the EEOC beyond notifying the employer of the nature of a planned lawsuit, and making nominal efforts to resolve the matter before litigation.