Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Shell Oil Company

Decision Date02 April 1984
Docket NumberNo. 82-825,82-825
Citation80 L.Ed.2d 41,466 U.S. 54,104 S.Ct. 1621
PartiesEQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Petitioner v. SHELL OIL COMPANY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Section 707(e) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Act) authorizes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) "to investigate and act on a charge" that an employer has engaged in "a pattern or practice" of employment discrimination. Section 706(b) provides that such a charge "shall be in writing under oath or affirmation and shall contain such information and be in such form as the Commission requires," and further requires the EEOC to "serve a notice of the charge (including the date, place and circumstances of the alleged unlawful employment practice) on [the] employer . . . within ten days" of the filing of the charge. An implementing regulation provides that a charge of discrimination must "contain . . . [a] clear and concise statement of the facts, including the pertinent dates, constituting the alleged unlawful employment practices." A Commissioner of the EEOC issued a sworn charge against respondent employer, alleging that it had violated the Act by discriminating against Negroes and women "in recruitment, hiring, selection, job assignment, training, testing, promotion, and terms and conditions of employment." The charge also specified the occupational categories, access to which had been affected by the alleged discrimination. A copy of the charge was served on respondent 10 days after the charge was filed. Thereafter, respondent claimed that the charge was "not supportable by the facts," and when it persistently refused to provide the EEOC with certain requested records and data, the EEOC issued a subpoena duces tecum, directing respondent to turn over the information. Instead of complying with the subpoena, respondent filed suit in Federal District Court to quash the subpoena and enjoin the EEOC's investigation, alleging that the subpoena was unenforceable because the EEOC had failed to disclose facts sufficient to satisfy § 706(b)'s mandate. The charge was then amended to allege that respondent had engaged in the identified unlawful employment practices on a continuing basis from at least the effective date of the Act until the present. When respondent still refused to comply with the request for information, the EEOC filed suit in Federal District Court requesting enforcement of the subpoena, and this suit was consolidated with respondent's suit. The District Court denied respondent relief and enforced the subpoena. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the EEOC had failed to comply with either § 706(b) or the implementing regulation, that the charge and notice should inform the employer of the approximate dates of the unlawful practices, should include enough other information to show that those dates have some "basis in fact," and should contain a "statement of the circumstances" of the alleged violations "supported by some factual or statistical basis."

Held: All of the strictures embodied in Title VII and the implementing regulation pertaining to the form and content of a charge of systemic discrimination and to the timing and adequacy of the notice afforded the employer were adhered to in this case, and therefore the EEOC was entitled to enforcement of its subpoena. Pp. 61-82.

(a) In determining the EEOC's authority to request judicial enforcement of its subpoenas, effect must be given to Congress' purpose in establishing a linkage between the EEOC's investigatory power and charges of discrimination. If the EEOC were able to insist that an employer obey a subpoena despite the complainant's failure to file a valid charge, Congress' desire to prevent the EEOC from exercising unconstrained investigative authority would be thwarted. Accordingly, the existence of a charge that meets the requirements of § 706(b) is a jurisdictional prerequisite to judicial enforcement of a subpoena issued by the EEOC. And, for purposes of this case, it is assumed that compliance with § 706(b)'s notice requirement is also a jurisdictional prerequisite to enforcement of a subpoena. Pp. 61-67.

(b) The prescription embodied in the implementing regulation, as applied to a charge alleging a "pattern or practice" of discrimination, should be construed as follows: Insofar as he is able, the Commissioner issuing the charge should identify the groups of persons that he has reason to believe have been discriminated against, the categories of employment positions from which they have been excluded, the methods by which the discrimination may have been effected, and the periods of time in which he suspects the discrimination to have been practiced. The charge issued here, as amended, plainly satisfied these standards. Pp. 67-74.

(c) The specific purpose of § 706(b)'s notice provision is to give an employer fair notice of the existence and nature of the allegations against it, and not to impose a substantive constraint on the EEOC's investigative authority. Properly construed, § 706(b) requires the EEOC, within 10 days of the filing of a charge, to reveal to the employer all of the information that must be included in the charge itself under the current version of the implementing regulation. Because in this case respondent was provided with a copy of the charge 10 days after it was filed, and because the charge comported with the regulation, the notice provision was satisfied. Pp. 74-81.

676 F.2d 322 (8th Cir.1982), reversed and remanded.

Richard G. Wilkins, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Robert E. Williams, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 707(e) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, authorizes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) "to investigate and act on a charge" that an employer has engaged in "a pattern or practice" of employment discrimination. Section 706(b) and regulations promulgated thereunder govern the form and content of such a charge and the manner in which the employer should be notified of the allegations of wrongdoing contained therein. The question presented in this case is how much information must be included in the charge and provided to the employer before the Commission may secure judicial enforcement of an administrative subpoena compelling the employer to disclose personnel records and other material relevant to the charge.

I

On September 27, 1979, Commissioner Eleanor Holmes Norton, then Chair of the EEOC, issued a sworn charge, alleging that respondent, Shell Oil Company, "has violated and continues to violate Sections 703 and 707 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, by discriminating against Blacks and females on the basis of race and sex with respect to recruitment, hiring, selection, job assignment, training, testing, promotion, and terms and conditions of employment." App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a. The charge specified respondent's Wood River Refinery as the locale of the alleged statutory violations. In addition, the charge identified six occupational categories access to which had been affected by racial discrimination and seven occupational categories access to which had been affected by gender discrimination.1 As originally drafted, the charge did not specify a date on which these alleged unlawful employment practices began. The charge was filed with the St. Louis District Office of the EEOC on October 16, 1979. A copy of the charge, accompanied by a cover letter and a request for various information from the personnel records of the Wood River Refinery, was served on respondent 10 days later.

In the course of discussions with the EEOC over the next several months, respondent took the position that "the charge that has been issued is not supportable by the facts." App. 91. In defense of that position, respondent identified a "multi-county area" surrounding the Wood River Refinery that, in respondent's view, was the "appropriate local labor market for the Refinery." App. 90. Respondent argued that, when the percentages of Negroes and women in the labor market so defined were compared to the percentages of Negroes and women in the overall workforce of the refinery (and the percentages of Negroes and women who had recently been hired, promoted, or accepted into the refinery's training programs), it became apparent that respondent was not engaging in systemic discrimination. App. 90-91.2 Respondent submitted some aggregate employment statistics supportive of its arguments but refused to disclose the records and data requested by the EEOC unless and until the Commission answered a series of questions regarding the basis of the charge and furnished information substantiating its answers.

The EEOC took the position that, until it had more evidence, it could not evaluate respondent's contention that the proper labor market constituted not the St. Louis Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area but, rather, the smaller area proposed by respondent. App. 95. In answer to respondent's arguments concerning the numbers of Negroes and women employed at the refinery, the EEOC referred respondent to § 16.2 of the EEOC Compliance Manual, which sets forth the standards the Commission has adopted for selecting employers suspected of engaging in systemic employment discrimination. One of the groups targeted for investigation under that provision consists of "employers . . . who employ a substantially smaller proportion of minorities and/or women in their higher paid job categories than in their lower paid job categories." 3 Respondent was thus alerted to the fact that its contentions based upon the percentages of minorities and women in the aggregate work force of the refinery could not conclusively establish its compliance with the EEOC guidelines. On those bases, the EEOC rejected respondent's suggestion that the charge be withdrawn and reiterated the request for information from respondent...

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