Supreme Court gives district courts more control over EEOC subpoenas
- The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that appeals courts should take their cue from district court rulings on whether to uphold Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) subpoenas, reports SHRM. Agency subpoenas found to be irrelevant, burdensome, vague or for illegitimate purposes should be denied, the High Court said.
- In McLane Co. v. EEOC, the district court struck down a portion of the agency’s subpoena that it decided was irrelevant, said SHRM. An appeals court upheld the subpoena, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision.
- Gerald Maatman Jr., a Seyfarth Shaw attorney, told SHRM that a district court’s decision to uphold or deny an EEOC subpoena will be more difficult to overturn on appeal.
As SHRM points out, the High Court’s April 3 decision could work for or against employers. With more leeway, district courts can uphold an EEOC subpoena as easily as they can deny one.
The decision could mean district courts won't be inclined to favor EEOC subpoenas as they have been in the past. The agency will likely now have the burden of proving a subpoena isn’t burdensome, irrelevant, vague or illegitimate. Employers won’t have to assume they’ll be automatically confronted in district court with a ruling favoring the agency. They can present their arguments in a case with less fear of being dismissed by the court and forced to appeal.
The EEOC may request as much information from employers as it deems necessary in issuing subpoenas under its broad authority to investigate employment discrimination claims. Whether the Trump administration will rein in some of that authority remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, employers would be wise to draft arguments that address whether EEOC subpoenas meet the High Court’s test for denial by the district courts.