OPIOID SERIES:

Justices hand employers win on discrimination claims

In a unanimous ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave employers a small protection against workplace discrimination litigation.

Vacating the opinion of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the justices said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) must try to resolve a complaint before suing companies for discrimination.

The justices agreed that courts have a right to review how EEOC handles these cases, but the narrow opinion given by Justice Elena Kagan said that judicial review is limited. EEOC is only obligated under the statute to give an employer notice and an opportunity to voluntarily settle the claim.

The case, Mining v. EEOC, stems from a complaint the commission received from a group of women who said they were discriminated against when Mach Mining refused to hire them because they are women.  

After investing the sex discrimination charge, EEOC sent a letter inviting the company to participate in a reconciliation proceeding, which said a commission representative would be in contact. A year later, EEOC sent a second letter to notify Mach Mining that efforts to resolve the claim were unsuccessful and then sued the company in federal court. 

Mach Mining argued that the EEOC had not attempted in “good faith” to resolve the charge waged against the company, but EEOC argued its actions weren’t subject to judicial review. 

In the opinion, Kagan said Congress imposed a mandatory duty on the EEOC to try and resolve any discrimination claims before filing a lawsuit, prerequisite actions that are enforced by Title VII of the Civil Right Act.

“And though Congress gave EEOC wide latitude to choose which ‘informal methods’ to use, it did not deprive courts of judicially manageable criteria by which to review the conciliation process,” she wrote.

The case will now be sent back to the lower courts.