In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that courts may only conduct a “relatively bare-bones review” of the EEOC’s conciliation efforts.
The decision stems from the EEOC’s lawsuit against Mach Mining, LLC, headquartered in Marion, Ill. The Commission sued Mach Mining in September 2011, alleging that the company violated Title VII by failing to hire any female miners since beginning operations in 2006, despite having received applications from many highly qualified women. Mach Mining chose to defend against these allegations in part by criticizing the EEOC for inadequately conciliating the matter before suing. The EEOC moved for partial summary judgment with respect to Mach Mining’s so-called affirmative defense that the Commission had failed to properly conciliate before filing its complaint.
The Supreme Court’s decision today adopts a standard that requires only that the EEOC “afford the employer a chance to discuss and rectify a specified discriminatory practice.” The court emphasized that “such limited review respects the expansive discretion that Title VII gives the EEOC over the conciliation process” but ensures that the Commission fulfills its obligation to conciliate. The court also highlighted that intrusive judicial review of conciliation would flout the confidentiality requirements in the statute and ultimately would undermine conciliation itself. The court concluded that courts reviewing conciliation efforts must not “impinge” on the Commission’s latitude to conduct the type of conciliation it thinks reasonable in a particular case, or on its “responsibility to eliminate unlawful workplace discrimination.”