Courts May Not Consider Sufficiency Of EEOC Investigation

By Sharon A. Lim Jan 12, 2016


HR Magazine December 2015A court can review whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) conducted an investigation prior to a lawsuit, but it may not evaluate the sufficiency of that investigation, according to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Between 2005 and 2007, 19 female employees of Sterling Jewelers Inc. filed charges with the EEOC, alleging a nationwide practice of gender-based pay and promotion discrimination. The agency subsequently issued a letter of determination finding that Sterling violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and then filed a lawsuit against the company. Sterling sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that the EEOC had failed to conduct a pre-suit investigation, as required by statute. The district court found no evidence that the agency performed a nationwide class investigation and dismissed the claims. The EEOC appealed.

Professional Pointer
Employers will likely not be able to dispute the sufficiency of an EEOC investigation if the investigator produces an affidavit outlining the steps that he or she took to look into the allegations against an employer.

The appeals court vacated the district court’s dismissal order and remanded the case for further proceedings, finding that the lower court improperly considered the sufficiency of the EEOC investigation. The appeals court found that, based on the investigator’s testimony that he reviewed the appropriate files, assessed all charges and requested documents from the parties, the EEOC had properly investigated the claims against Sterling. In reaching its decision, the appeals court reasoned that courts should respect the EEOC’s wide discretion under Title VII.

Sharon A. Lim is an attorney with Marr Jones & Wang, the Worklaw® Network member firm in Honolulu.

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