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Friday, May 1, 2015

Supremes to Employers: No, We Won't Make EEOC Force You To Settle

In one of the most bizarre employer appeals I've ever seen, a company called Mach Mining asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a suit by EEOC because EEOC didn't engage in sufficient conciliation efforts. Conciliation is a fancy term for trying to settle a case. It's done after EEOC makes one of those rare findings of "cause" for a discrimination charge.*

That's right: this was an employer’s beef about EEOC not trying hard enough to make the employer settle. It was much ado about . . . well, not nothing, but certainly not much. While I’d have been happy if the Supremes had ordered EEOC to beat lawbreaking employers into settling with, say, a cat o’ nine tails, I didn’t expect them to do so.

The Supreme Court in Mach Mining confirmed what EEOC has been saying all along, namely, that the courts can’t involve themselves in the conciliation process. The Supreme Court did say that EEOC does indeed have to inform employers about the specific wrongdoing it has found and which employees suffered from the wrongdoing, and then try to engage the employer in a discussion to give the employer a chance to fix the problem. However, the sole remedy for EEOC’s failure to comply is to stay the proceeding and require EEOC to conciliate. So it will work similarly to a court ordering the parties to mediate before trial.

This makes perfect sense, since there is absolutely no realistic way for a court to decide if one party is being unreasonable in a settlement discussion. While EEOC has to try to get the employer to voluntarily comply with the law, the courts are not going to tell it how to accomplish that. Employers are calling it a "win," but it's mostly a big ball of nothing.

Employers should be really glad that the Supreme Court didn’t order EEOC to get more forceful with scofflaw employers.  Taxpayers and employees lose out when employers fail to conciliate reasonably and EEOC has to sue employers to enforce the law.

This case will have zero effect on employees who sue on their own. It only applies to cases where EEOC sues on behalf of employees. We already know that this is about as likely as getting hit by lightning. Bottom line: don't worry about it. It probably doesn't apply to your case or you.

* The alternative to a "cause" finding is NOT a "no-cause" finding, although this is what management-side lawyers like to call it. It's an "unable to determine" finding, saying that they can't determine one way or the other whether discrimination occurred, and they issue a right to sue letter.


  1. Much ado about nothing maybe, but at least they've made clear that the courts can't get involved in the class action settlement
    process. It may not be the biggest case ever but it's still interesting, thanks!

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.