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Monday, September 14, 2015

Pre-suit investigations by EEOC


Pre-suit investigations by EEOC
EEOC v Sterling Jewelers, Inc., USCA, 2ndCircuit, Docket 14-1782

Before the EEOC may bring an enforcement action under Title VII against an employer, it must comply with certain administrative obligations, including receiving a formal charge of unlawful discrimination, provide notice of the charge to the employer, investigate the charge and give the employer notice of its determination that there was “reasonable cause” to believe that a violation of Title VII had occurred. EEOC must then make a “good faith effort” to conciliate the matter.*

In this Title VII action a magistrate judge issued a “Report and Recommendation” finding that EEOC not prove that it satisfied its statutory obligation to conduct a pre-suit investigation of allegations that Sterling Jewelers “engaged in a nationwide practice of sex-based pay and promotion discrimination. The magistrate judge recommended that the federal district court grant Sterling’s motion for “summary judgment” dismissing EEOC’s action.

The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation and granted Sterling’s motion seeking summary judgment. EEOC appealed.

Citing EEOC v Keco Indus., Inc., 748 F.2d 1097, the Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal district court was incorrect in granting Sterling motion for summary judgment, explaining that the magistrate judge improperly reviewed the sufficiency of the EEOC investigation rather than simply whether there was an investigation. Under Title VII, said the Circuit Court, “courts may review whether the EEOC conducted an investigation, but not the sufficiency of an investigation.”

The court noted that only EEOC’s statutory pre-suit investigation obligation was at issue as the parties agreed that EEOC’s participation in the mediation would have satisfied its obligation to conciliate in the matter if it brought an enforcement action. Further, there were no allegations the EEOC had not satisfied any of its other pre-suit obligation in this instance.

As EEOC had, in fact, conducted an investigation in this case, the Circuit Court vacated the summary judgment order and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings.

* See 42 U.S.C. §2000e–5(b)

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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