EEOC v. Shell Oil Company

PETITIONER: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
RESPONDENT: Shell Oil Company
LOCATION: Alpha House

DOCKET NO.: 82-825
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 54 (1984)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 1983
DECIDED: Apr 02, 1984

Richard G. Wilkins - on behalf of the Petitioner
Robert E. Williams - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for EEOC v. Shell Oil Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 1983 in EEOC v. Shell Oil Company

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Wilkins, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Richard G. Wilkins:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

Three terms ago this Court concluded in Federal Trade Commission versus Standard Oil Company of California that an administrative complaint should not be subjected to routine judicial review to determine whether it had been properly issued because such review necessarily resulted in undue delay in the resolution of the administrative proceeding, improperly subjected or rendered the prosecuting agency the Defendant at the very outset of its proceeding, and in the end resulted in unnecessary and piecemeal appellate review.

Although this case arises in a somewhat different context, it presents a very similar issue, that is, whether there must be a trial and a consequent judicious or appellate review, with all the attendant delays, of the question whether or not a complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been properly issued.

The practical considerations that compelled this Court's result in the SOCAL case requires similar result here.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Wilkins, you say that one of the issues here is whether there must be a trial.

Even in the days before the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted and complaints were held to a fairly strict standard of pleading facts, I don't think there ever were trials with witnesses called.

Richard G. Wilkins:

I misspoke.

I meant some sort of a hearing, some sort of judicial probing into those facts.

On October 16, 1979, Eleanor Holmes North, who was then Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, issued a sworn Commissioner's complaint against the Respondent, Shell Oil Company, alleging unlawful employment practices of Shell's Wood River, Illinois, Refinery.

Commissioner Norton stated that she had cause to believe that the Respondent had unlawfully excluded Blacks from managerial, professional, technical, office clerical craft, and service worker positions, and had similarly excluded women from managerial, professional, technical craft, operative labor, and service worker positions.

A copy of the charge was duly filed on the Respondent, and it was subsequently amended to state that Commissioner Norton had reason to believe that the acts had occurred on a continuing basis since at least July 1965.

The Commission then began an investigation to determine whether there was reasonable cause to support the allegations of Commissioner Norton's complaint.

The Commission, pursuant to Section 709(a) of the Act, requested the Respondent to provide certain employment information.

The Respondent, on the basis of its own statistical analysis, refused, arguing that its employment practices did not...

"Were clearly not the profile anticipated for a Commissioner's charge. "

After informal methods of administrative investigation failed, the Commission filed a subpoena pursuant to Section 710, and the Respondent filed this action to squash the subpoena and enjoin the Commission's investigation.

The Respondent argued that Commissioner Norton had not shown sufficient facts to form a basis for her allegations of discrimination.

The District Court dismissed these factual specificity arguments as meritless and enforced the Commission's subpoena.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit reversed, however, finding that there was indeed insufficient factual basis to support the charge.

On denial of a hearing en banc, Chief Judge Lay of the Eighth District dissented, stating that the decision placed the circuit in direct conflict with the decisions of all other courts of appeal addressing the issue of factual allegations in a Title VII charge.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Was he alone in the dissent?

Richard G. Wilkins:

He was alone in the dissent as far as I am aware.

As noted by Chief Judge Lay, the single most significant characteristic of the decision below is that it does fly in the face of previously uniform precedent rejecting any factual pleading requirement for Title VII charges.

Indeed, since the decision below was rendered, two additional courts of appeals have looked at the question and have concluded that the factual pleading requirement created by the court below is inappropriate and is not in conformity with the Title VII enforcement scheme.

This Court has recognized that Title VII creates an integrated, multi-step enforcement procedure culminating in the Commission's authority to bring an enforcement action in Federal Court.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Wilkins, I think that the Eighth Circuit relied on a particular provision of the Civil Rights Act, did it not?

Richard G. Wilkins:


Section 707 of the Civil Rights Act authorizes the Commission to... authorizes a member of the Commission to file a complaint based upon a suspected pattern or practice of discrimination.

Section 706(b) requires that that charge be in writing, under oath or affirmation, and contain such information and be in such form as the Commission requires.