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How Far Can the EEOC Go in its Investigations of Employers?


When an EEOC charge is filed against an employer, the EEOC has the duty and the authority to investigate whether reasonable cause exists to believe the alleged discrimination occurred. During that investigation, both the employee (the Charging Party) and the employer will be required to provide certain information, as requested by the EEOC. A recent case brought by the EEOC against the United Parcel Service raised the issue of how far the EEOC is allowed to go in requesting information for its investigation.

What are the limitations on the EEOC’s subpoena power?

In a recent Sixth Circuit case, EEOC v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the court of appeals was faced with the issue of whether the EEOC’s subpoena seeking company-wide information was appropriate when its investigation only involved a single employee’s charge of discrimination.

Claims of ADA discrimination against the UPS

According to the lawsuit, the UPS published confidential medical information about several employees on its intranet page, which would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As part of its investigation, the EEOC issued a subpoena requesting information regarding the company’s storage and disclosure methods for employee medical information. UPS challenged the subpoena as requesting irrelevant information.

The EEOC is entitled to evidence of the existence of patterns of discrimination

In relation to Title VII discrimination cases, the Sixth Circuit has previously held that the EEOC is entitled to information pertaining to the existence of patterns of racial discrimination. Consequently, the Court found that there was “no reason to hold differently with respect to discrimination on the basis of disability.” The Court’s reasoning in this particular case was that “so long as a charge alleges unlawful use of medical examinations and inquiries, evidence of patterns of such unlawful use is relevant to the charge under investigation.”

The UPS argued the request was overly broad

The UPS argued that the EEOC should only be entitled to request information that related to any similarly-situated employees. Specifically, UPS argued that the databases mentioned in the EEOC’s subpoena included employees from other regions in the United States and Canada, including a database in which the Charging Party’s information never appeared.

The Sixth Circuit did not agree with these limitations

First, the Court did not agree with limiting the relevant information to similarly-situated employees, stating that there is no such restriction under the ADA. The Court also rejected the argument that other regions were, likewise, irrelevant. According to the Sixth Circuit, the breach of confidentiality described by the employee in this case was

not limited to that employee alone. He had, in fact, alleged that “all other employees subject to Health and Safety incident action/reports have had their confidentiality breached in the same manner as me.” Instead, the Sixth Circuit decided that the EEOC was entitled to subpoena information that might establish a pattern of discrimination in addition to the specific instance of discrimination alleged in the charge.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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