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Supreme Court Holds that Courts May Review EEOC’s Conciliation Duties

Last month, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit’s decision that the Equal Opportunity Commission’s statutory conciliation obligation was unreviewable. In Mach Mining, LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Supreme Court examined a court’s ability to review the EEOC’s conciliation duties. Before filing a lawsuit for discrimination under Title VII, an employee must first file a charge with the EEOC. In turn, the EEOC must “endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.” 42. U.S.C. 2000e-5(b).

The Supreme Court determined that there has been a “strong presumption” that Congress meant to allow judicial review of administrative action absent a statute’s language to the contrary. Looking at the language of Title VII, the Court found that while Congress gave the EEOC wide latitude to determine which “informal methods” to use to attempt conciliation, Title VII “did not deprive courts of judicially manageable criteria by which to review the conciliation process.” However, the scope of a court’s review is narrow, in deference to the expansive discretion Title VII gives to the EEOC. The Court held that a sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating it had performed its conciliation duties was sufficient to satisfy Title VII’s conciliation requirement. However, if an employer presented concrete evidence that the EEOC did not attempt conciliation, it would be permissible for a court to conduct fact-finding necessary to resolve that limited dispute and, should it be necessary, mandate the EEOC to undertake conciliation efforts.