A recent win in court for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may limit employers’ ability to push back in the face of overly broad and intrusive requests for information during EEOC investigations into workplace discrimination.
In the specific case of EEOC v. McLane Company, Inc., the EEOC sought to compel McLane Company to provide it with the names, social security numbers, last known addresses and telephone numbers of all employees who were required to take McLane’s strength test. McLane argued that it should only be required to identify employees using an “employee ID number” and that anything more was irrelevant to the EEOC’s investigation and therefore, outside of the EEOC’s authority to request.
On Oct. 27, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of a lower court, holding that the EEOC was justified in requesting the personal information of McLane’s employees. Of particular note, the Ninth Circuit wrote that “the relevancy limitation imposed by [Title VII] ‘is not especially constraining.’” As such, the court held that the important question in deciding whether the EEOC is entitled to information in the course of an investigation “is not whether the evidence sought [by the EEOC] would tend to prove a charge of unlawful discrimination” but rather, whether it “might cast light on the allegations against the employer.”
While the McLane case does not necessarily change the current state of the law, the case indicates a willingness by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to give the EEOC broad power to request information in the context of a Title VII investigation. As a result, employers, particularly those in the Ninth Circuit, should be aware that they will have an uphill battle in attempting to limit or deny EEOC requests for information during the investigation process.