Scope of review of EEOC Investigation is limited: Second Circuit

Second Circuit, recently, in the case of EEOC v. Sterling Jewels, Inc., No. 14-1782 (2d Cir. 2015) has held that the employers cannot challenge the lawsuits filed against them by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on the ground of not having conducted a proper investigation.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EEOC is under an obligation to discharge these five duties before they can sue an employer for discriminatory pay and promotion practices:

  1. receive a formal charge of discrimination;
  2. provide notice of the charge to the employer;
  3. investigate the charge;
  4. make a determination as to whether there is reasonable cause to believe a violation occurred; and
  5. make a good-faith effort to conciliate the charge.

Investigation of the charge prior to the filing of the case was in issue in the Sterling Jewels case wherein it was alleged by the employers that EEOC failed to conduct a proper and adequate inquiry prior to the filing of the charge. The trial court ruled in favor of the employers based on the reasoning that EEOC failed to recall much about investigation and did not disclose much about specifics expect stating that several investigators looked into the charges, that all the charges were consolidated into one to be reviewed by one investigator and were then investigated as class charges.


However, the Second Circuit reversed the trial court’s order on an appeal stating that EEOC just needed to show that it conducted a pre-suit investigation and not determine its quality/adequacy. The court followed the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mach Mining case that had recently examined the appropriate scope of judicial review of the EEOC’s pre-suit activities and held that the review should be narrow and limited to whether the administrative duties were discharged by EEOC, and not delve into how well discharged. (EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC, 135 S. Ct. 1645 [2015])

It is enough for EEOC to show that a reasonable cause existed for it to believe that the allegations laid out in charge are true and that an investigation was conducted; and the same can be supported with an affidavit stating “that it performed its investigative obligations and outlining the steps taken to investigate the charge”. Though, EEOC had failed to file an affidavit, the Court took note of EEOC’s investigative obligation based on deposition testimony submitted along with the voluminous investigative file to state the obligation as fulfilled.


However, in the Mach Mining case, EEOC was afforded another chance to establish that it made efforts in engaging the employer for conciliation; Sterling Jewels case did not take up the question whether EEOC will again be given a chance in future to rectify its mistakes for not being able to comply with its obligations and remains unanswered.

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