Mach Mining, LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PETITIONER: Mach Mining, LLC
RESPONDENT: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
LOCATION: Mach Mining, LLC

DOCKET NO.: 13-1019
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 575 US (2015)
GRANTED: Jun 30, 2014
ARGUED: Jan 13, 2015
DECIDED: Apr 29, 2015

ADVOCATES:
Nicole A. Saharsky - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Thomas C. Goldstein - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a complaint from a woman who claimed Mach Mining, LLC (Mach Mining) denied her a job because of her gender. The EEOC determined that there was reasonable cause to believe Mach Mining had discriminated against female applicants and began conciliation, but the parties ultimately could not agree and the EEOC sued on the female applicants' behalf. Mach Mining argued that the EEOC did not conciliate in good faith, and the EEOC moved for summary judgment on whether failure to conciliate in good faith is a viable defense to its suit for unlawful discrimination. The district court denied the motion and held that courts may review the EEOC's informal settlement efforts to determine whether the EEOC made a sincere and reasonable effort to negotiate.

Nonetheless, the court certified the question to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The appellate court reversed and held that, so long as the EEOC has pleaded that it complied with Title VII and the relevant documents are facially sufficient, judicial review is satisfied. The appellate court noted that Title VII gives the EEOC complete discretion to accept or reject settlement offers during informal conciliation and provides no standard to evaluate the failure-to-conciliate affirmative defense. Therefore, the appellate court determined that allowing an employer to use failure-to-conciliate as an affirmative defense would protract and complicate employment discrimination cases.

Question

Are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's conciliation efforts judicially reviewable and, if so, to what extent?

Media for Mach Mining, LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 2015 in Mach Mining, LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 29, 2015 in Mach Mining, LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Kagan has the opinion of the court this morning in Case 13-1019, Mach Mining v EEOC.

Elena Kagan:

Title VII charges the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC with enforcing the laws and prohibitions against discrimination in the workplace.

One of those provisions states that before the EEOC may sue an employer for discrimination, it must try through what are called informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion to get the employer to voluntarily comply with the law.

Only if that attempts to conciliate the claim fails may the EEOC file a suit.

This case is about whether and to what extent Courts may review and enforce the EEOC's efforts to achieve voluntary compliance.

In the case the EEOC found that petitioner Mach Mining might well have discriminated against a class of women by failing to hire them as coalminers.

The Commission sent a letter to Mach Mining saying as much and letting the company know that someone would be in touch to try to conciliate the claim.

We don't know what happened after that, the record doesn't say, but about a year later the EEOC sent another letter to Mach Mining saying its conciliation efforts had failed.

The EEOC then sued the company.

As a defense to the suit, Mach Mining alleged that the EEOC hadn't met its duty under Title VII to conciliate the claim before filing suit.

The EEOC countered that its conciliation efforts weren't subject to judicial review.

That means a Court would have no power to determine whether the EEOC complied with its statutory obligation to try to conciliate claims.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed that the EEOC's conciliation efforts are unreviewable.

Today, we hold that the Seventh Circuit was wrong.

The EEOC's statutory duty is subject to judicial review.

But we also hold that the scope of that review is narrow, reflecting the wide discretion Title VII gives the EEOC to decide how to conduct its informal discussions with employers.

As to the first point, this Court presumes that Congress intends for Courts to review agency action.

When Congress directs an agency to do a thing, it wants that thing to get done.

Judicial review helps make sure that happens.

This is just a commonsense idea.

When an agency knows a Court is checking on it, the agency will be more careful.

The presumption in favor of judicial review can be overcome, but nothing does so here.

Congress used mandatory language to describe the EEOC's duty to try to achieve voluntary compliance.

According to the statute, the EEOC must prior to filing any suit give the employer notice of what the charge is and must provide the employer with an opportunity to discuss and try to resolve the matter.

Courts routinely enforce similar compulsory prerequisites to suit in Title VII litigation and nothing is different about this one.

At the same time our opinion makes clear that the scope of this judicial review is narrow.

The statute, as I just said, requires the EEOC to tell the employer about the claim and give the employer a chance to settle it, but the statute leaves entirely to the EEOC how to conduct those discussions and when to end them.

It sets no rules of negotiation and it makes the EEOC the sole arbiter of when the employer has offered enough to stave off a lawsuit.

The statute also contains a strict confidentiality provision, preventing the disclosure in a future suit of anything that happened during conciliation discussions.

That statutory framework makes clear that a Court is not to delve into the content of the discussions between the EEOC and the employer about a discrimination charge.