Supreme Court holds EEOC efforts to conciliate can be reviewed in court

SCOTUS allows court review of EEOC discrimination conciliation attempts…to an extent.

The government in the United States is one based on checks and balances. Different branches watch over each other to better ensure that the rights of the people are preserved. One form of these checks was recently questioned in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

The question reviewed by SCOTUS involves the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to monitor allegations of discrimination.

More on the EEOC

The EEOC is a federal agency that is tasked with enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee based on that person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and over), disability or genetic information. The agency's website notes that these laws apply to most employers who have 15 or more workers and cover all types of work situations, including offers of employment, termination, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.

Those in these work environments that believe they are the victims of discrimination can file a claim with this federal agency. The EEOC can resolve the claim in a number of ways, including mediation, settlement and conciliation. The process under review in this case was conciliation.

More on the case

Conciliation is a statutorily required attempt to resolve findings of discrimination. Those involved in the case are informed through a letter that there is evidence to support "reasonable cause" that discrimination occurred and will be asked to participate in conciliation discussions. These discussions involve an investigator that attempts to develop an appropriate remedy.

SCOTUS was recently asked whether conciliation efforts by the EEOC could be reviewed in court. The EEOC argued that conciliatory efforts should be insulated from a full review to preserve the confidentiality of the process. SCOTUS issued a unanimous opinion on the matter. In the opinion, SCOTUS answered two questions:

  • Can a court review whether the EEOC met its statutory obligation to attempt conciliation before moving forward with a suit?
  • If so, to what extent?

Ultimately, it was held that the court can review the decisions of the EEOC, but on a narrow scope. Thus, a "relatively barebones" review is allowed. This review basically involves an evaluation of whether the EEOC attempted to confer about a charge, not the specifics of the negotiations. These details are to remain confidential, maintaining the integrity of the EEOC conciliation process. The Court emphasized that the holding gives the agency "abundant discretion" regarding the scope and limits of negotiations.

Implications of the holding

The case highlights how the laws governing discrimination claims can change. As a result, those who believe they are the victims of discrimination are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced lawyer to better ensure their rights are protected.

Keywords: EEOC Discrimination