Decided: July 18, 2012
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) appealed from the denial of judicial enforcement of an administrative subpoena served in the course of investigating charges brought against Randstad. The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the district court, holding that the EEOC had authority to investigate the charges under two independent bases and the materials requested were within the scope of the EEOC’s investigatory authority.
Kevin Morrison, a resident of Maryland, was born in Jamaica and cannot read or write English. He filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC asserting that Randstad, a temporary staffing agency, terminated his employment pursuant to a requirement that its employees read and write English for light industrial clients that use laborers in manufacturing or warehouse settings. Morrison alleged that Randstad’s literacy policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against his national origin. Two years later, after a psychological evaluation revealed he had an intellectual disability that prevented him from reading and writing, Morrison filed an amended charge asserting that the literacy policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed an administrative subpoena in the course of its investigation of Randstad that Randstad resisted in part. When the EEOC sought judicial enforcement, the district court denied relief because it disagreed with the EEOC’s alleged factual nexus between national origin discrimination and literacy requirements and rejected the EEOC’s arguments that the ADA claim should relation back to the date the Title VII claim was filed.
The Court of Appeals began by noting that a district court’s role in enforcing administrative subpoenas is “sharply limited,” and that to obtain judicial enforcement the EEOC need only demonstrate that it is authorized to make an investigation and the materials requested are relevant. A district court reviewing an administrative subpoena is not to determine the underlying claim on the merits; that role is delegated to the discretion of the administrative agency. Explaining that the EEOC need only present an arguable basis for jurisdiction over the investigation, the Court of Appeals held that the amended charge of discrimination based upon the same set of factual allegations allowed the charge to relate back to the date of the original charge, thus giving the EEOC authority to investigate the claims under both the ADA and Title VII. Once the EEOC is on notice that a particular employer may be violating discrimination statutes, it may access virtually any material that might cast light on the allegations, a broad definition of relevance. Holding that the district court committed legal error by applying an unnecessarily strict standard of relevance, the Court of Appeals noted that applying the correct standard, with deference to the EEOC’s definition of relevance, led to the conclusion that all of the EEOC’s requested materials fell within the broad definition applicable to EEOC administrative standards. Further holding Randstad’s affidavit that production of the materials would be unduly burdensome was insufficient as a matter of law, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court and remanded the case for entry of an order granting the EEOC’s application for enforcement.
-Nora Anne Bennani