BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Vacates And Remands Mach Mining EEOC Case

April 29, 2015

A woman applied for employment as a coal miner with Mach Mining, LLC but was denied employment. As a result, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in which she alleged that the decision not to hire her was improperly based on considerations of her sex. In response to her complaint, the EEOC investigated and found reasonable cause to believe that Mach Mining had discriminated not only against the Complainant but also a class of similarly situated women. The employer was notified of EEOC's determination in a letter and the Complainant and the firm were invited to pursue dispute resolution; however, the record does not disclose that an EEOC representative ever contact either part in order to prompt the process.  About a year after the letter was sent, EEOC notified Mach Mining by second letter that the conciliation had proven unsuccessful and further efforts were deemed futile. Following that pronouncement, EEOC sued Mach Mining in federal district court alleging sex discrimination in hiring. 

In answering the federal charges, Defendant Mach Mining asserted that the EEOC had failed to conciliate in good faith prior to initiating litigation. The EEOC moved for Summary Judgment asserting that its efforts at conciliation are not subject to judicial review. Pointedly, the EEOC argued that a court's review would be limited to reviewing the two subject letters and confirming that they represented the commission's discharge of its legal duty.  In contradistinction, Defendant Mach Mining asserted that the courts could consider the evidence of the purported conciliation process and make findings as to EEOC's "reasonableness" in discharging its obligation. 

At trial, the federal District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ("SD ILL") agreed with Mach Mining's contentions; however, following an immediate appeal by the EEOC, the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ("7th Circuit") reversed, concurring with EEOC that the attempted conciliation was not subject to judicial review.  Mach Mining then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  Mach Mining, LLC, Petitioner, v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Opinion, United States Supreme Court, Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, No. 13-1019, April 29, 2015). The question presented was 

In Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, "Congress established an integrated, multistep enforcement procedure culminating in the EEOC's authority to bring a civil action in federal court." Occidental Life Ins. Co. v. EEOC, 432 U.S. 355, 359 (1977). At the outset of that process, if the EEOC finds that there is reasonable cause to believe a charge of discrimination against a private party it "shall endeavor to eliminate any ... alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e- 5(b). The Commission is forbidden from filing suit unless within a specified period it "has been unable to secure from the respondent a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission." Id. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Congress imposed similar requirements in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 626(b), the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3610 (b)(1), and federal election law, 2 U.S.C. §§ 437g(a)(4), (a)(6)(A). 

The Question Presented, on which the Seventh Circuit in this case avowedly rejected the precedent of numerous other courts of appeals, is: 

Whether and to what extent may a court enforce the EEOC's mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit? 

Justice Kagan delivered the Opinion, which vacated and remanded.  In summing up its rationale, the Supreme Court noted:

A sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed the obligations noted above but that its efforts have failed will usually suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement. Cf. United States v. Clarke, 573 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 6) "[A]bsent contrary evidence, the [agency] can satisfy [the relevant] standard by submitting a simple affidavit from" the agency representative involved). If, however, the employer provides credible evidence of its own, in the form of an affidavit or otherwise, indicating that the EEOC did not provide the requisite information about the charge or attempt to engage in a discussion about conciliating the claim, a court must conduct the factfinding necessary to decide that limited dispute. Cf. id., at ___-___ (slip op., at 6-7). Should the court find in favor of the employer, the appropriate remedy is to order the EEOC to undertake the mandated efforts to obtain voluntary compliance. See §2000e-5(f)(1) (authorizing a stay of a Title VII action for that purpose). 


Judicial review of administrative action is the norm in our legal system, and nothing in Title VII withdraws the courts' authority to determine whether the EEOC has fulfilled its duty to attempt conciliation of claims. But the scope of that review is narrow, reflecting the abundant discretion the law gives the EEOC to decide the kind and extent of discussions appropriate in a given case. In addressing a claim like Mach Mining's, courts may not impinge on that latitude and on the Commission's concomitant responsibility to eliminate unlawful workplace discrimination. 

Pages 13 - 14 of the Opinion

Following is a verbatim extract of the Court's Syllabus:

Before suing an employer for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) must first "endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion." 42 U. S. C. §2000e-5(b). Once the Commission determines that conciliation has failed, it may file suit in federal court. §2000e-5(f)(1). However, "[n]othing said or done during" conciliation may be "used as evidence in a subsequent proceeding without written consent of the persons concerned." §2000e-5(b). 

After investigating a sex discrimination charge against petitioner Mach Mining, LLC, respondent EEOC determined that reasonable cause existed to believe that the company had engaged in unlawful hiring practices. The Commission sent a letter inviting Mach Mining and the complainant to participate in informal conciliation proceedings and notifying them that a representative would be contacting them to begin the process. About a year later, the Commission sent Mach Mining another letter stating that it had determined that conciliation efforts had been unsuccessful. The Commission then sued Mach Mining in federal court. In its answer, Mach Mining alleged that the Commission had not attempted to conciliate in good faith. The Commission countered that its conciliation efforts were not subject to judicial review and that, regardless, the two letters it sent to Mach Mining provided adequate proof that it had fulfilled its statutory duty. The District Court agreed that it could review the adequacy of the Commission's efforts, but granted the Commission leave to immediately appeal. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the 2 MACH MINING, LLC v. EEOC Syllabus Commission's statutory conciliation obligation was unreviewable. 


1. Courts have authority to review whether the EEOC has fulfilled its Title VII duty to attempt conciliation. This Court has recognized a "strong presumption" that Congress means to allow judicial review of administrative action. Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U. S. 667, 670. That presumption is rebuttable when a statute's language or structure demonstrates that Congress intended an agency to police itself. Block v. Community Nutrition Institute, 467 U. S. 340, 349, 351. But nothing rebuts that presumption here. By its choice of language, Congress imposed a mandatory duty on the EEOC to attempt conciliation and made that duty a precondition to filing a lawsuit. Such compulsory prerequisites are routinely enforced by courts in Title VII litigation. And though Congress gave the EEOC wide latitude to choose which "informal methods" to use, it did not deprive courts of judicially manageable criteria by which to review the conciliation process. By its terms, the statutory obligation to attempt conciliation necessarily entails communication between the parties concerning the alleged unlawful employment practice. The statute therefore requires the EEOC to notify the employer of the claim and give the employer an opportunity to discuss the matter. In enforcing that statutory condition, a court applies a manageable standard. Pp. 4-8. 

2. The appropriate scope of judicial review of the EEOC's conciliation activities is narrow, enforcing only the EEOC's statutory obligation to give the employer notice and an opportunity to achieve voluntary compliance. This limited review respects the expansive discretion that Title VII gives the EEOC while still ensuring that it follows the law. 

The Government's suggestion that review be limited to checking the facial validity of its two letters to Mach Mining falls short of Title VII's demands. That standard would merely accept the EEOC's word that it followed the law, whereas the aim of judicial review is to verify that the EEOC actually tried to conciliate a discrimination charge. Citing the standard set out in the National Labor Relations Act, Mach Mining proposes review for whether the EEOC engaged in good-faith negotiation, laying out a number of specific requirements to implement that standard. But the NLRA's process-based approach provides a poor analogy for Title VII, which ultimately cares about substantive outcomes and eschews any reciprocal duty to negotiate in good faith. Mach Mining's proposed code of conduct also conflicts with the wide latitude Congress gave the Commission to decide how to conduct and when to end conciliation efforts. And because information obtained during conciliation would be necessary evidence in a Cite as: 575 U. S. ____ (2015) 3 Syllabus good-faith determination proceeding, Mach Mining's brand of review would violate Title VII's confidentiality protections. 

The proper scope of review thus matches the terms of Title VII's conciliation provision. In order to comply with that provision, the EEOC must inform the employer about the specific discrimination allegation. Such notice must describe what the employer has done and which employees (or class of employees) have suffered. And the EEOC must try to engage the employer in a discussion in order to give the employer a chance to remedy the allegedly discriminatory practice. A sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed these obligations should suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement. Should the employer present concrete evidence that the EEOC did not provide the requisite information about the charge or attempt to engage in a discussion about conciliating the claim, a court must conduct the factfinding necessary to resolve that limited dispute. Should it find for the employer, the appropriate remedy is to order the EEOC to undertake the mandated conciliation efforts. Pp. 8-14. 

738 F. 3d 171, vacated and remanded. 

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.