Supreme Court Backs Companies in EEOC Job-Bias Clash

Gay couples and their legal teams, defending same-sex marriages cheer as they leave the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.

MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court gave companies a new legal tool in fighting job-bias suits by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying judges should decide whether the agency took steps to resolve the case before suing.

Ruling unanimously in favor of a mining company accused of refusing to hire a woman, the justices said courts have power to enforce the requirement that the EEOC try to conciliate disputes.

Justice Elena Kagan said the court review would be “relatively barebones,” primarily ensuring that the agency notified the employer and gave it a chance to make voluntary changes in its practices.

Even so, the ruling is a setback for the Obama administration, which argued that any judicial review was unnecessary and would undermine the EEOC’s enforcement of federal job-discrimination laws. Corporate trade groups say the EEOC has increasingly ignored the conciliation requirement while pursuing an aggressive litigation strategy.

The case involved Mach Mining LLC, which is accused by the EEOC of discriminating against women who applied for jobs at its Johnston City, Illinois, coal mine. An unsuccessful job applicant complained to the EEOC in 2008, saying the company had never hired a female miner.

Mach Mining says the EEOC didn’t make a good-faith effort to resolve the matter short of litigation. Among other failings, the agency never provided the names of any other women who allegedly suffered discrimination, according to the company.

Mach Mining also says the EEOC threatened to seek sanctions against the company’s lawyers if they sought to convince a judge that the agency hadn’t fulfilled its conciliation obligation.

The Supreme Court ruling sets aside a decision by a Chicago-based federal appeals court.

The case is Mach Mining v. EEOC, 13-1019.

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