Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Associated Dry Goods Corporation, No. 79-1068

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEWART
Citation449 U.S. 590,66 L.Ed.2d 762,101 S.Ct. 817
Docket NumberNo. 79-1068
Decision Date26 January 1981
PartiesEQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Petitioner, v. ASSOCIATED DRY GOODS CORPORATION

449 U.S. 590
101 S.Ct. 817
66 L.Ed.2d 762
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Petitioner,

v.

ASSOCIATED DRY GOODS CORPORATION.

No. 79-1068.
Argued Nov. 3, 1980.
Decided Jan. 26, 1981.
Syllabus

Section 706(b) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that employment discrimination charges "shall not be made public" by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and bars public disclosure of anything "said or done" during informal Commission settlement endeavors. Section 709(e) makes it a misdemeanor for any EEOC officer or employee "to make public" any information the EEOC obtains through its investigative powers before the institution of any proceeding involving such information. After employment discrimination charges were filed against a department store division (Horne) of respondent, the EEOC requested Horne to provide it with the complainants' employment records and other information relating to Horne's personnel practices. Horne refused to provide the information unless the EEOC agreed not to disclose it to the charging parties. The EEOC refused to give this assurance, explaining its practice, pursuant to regulations and its Compliance Manual, of making limited disclosure to a charging party of information in his and other files when he needs that information in connection with a potential lawsuit. When Horne continued to refuse to provide the requested information, the EEOC subpoenaed the material. Respondent then filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking to have the EEOC's limited disclosure practices declared in violation of Title VII and to enjoin enforcement of the subpoena. The District Court held that such practices violated Title VII, and accordingly enforced the subpoena only on the condition that the EEOC treat charging parties as members of the "public" to whom it cannot disclose any information in its files. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held : Congress did not include charging parties within the "public" to whom disclosure of confidential information is illegal under §§ 706(b) and 709(e). Pp. 598-604.

(a) The "public" to whom §§ 706(b) and 709(e) forbid disclosure of charges and other information cannot logically include the parties to the agency proceeding, since the charges, of course, cannot be concealed from the charging party or from the respondent upon whom the statute requires notice to be served. A consistent reading of the statute requires that the "public" to whom § 709(e) prohibits dis-

Page 591

closure of information obtained in Commission investigations similarly exclude the parties. P. 598.

(b) The legislative history of §§ 706(b) and 709(e) supports this reading of the statute. Pp. 598-600.

(c) Moreover, such reading of the statute is consistent with the coordinated scheme of administrative and judicial enforcement of Title VII. Limited disclosure to the parties can speed the EEOC's required investigation and enhances its ability to carry out its statutory responsibility to resolve charges through informal conciliation and negotiation. Pp. 600-602.

(d) Even if disclosure to charging parties may encourage litigation in some instances, this result is not inconsistent with Title VII's ultimate purposes of permitting a private right of action as an important part of the enforcement scheme. Pp. 602-603.

(e) It was error to hold that respondent had a categorical right to refuse to comply with the EEOC subpoena unless the EEOC assured it that the information supplied would be held in absolute secrecy. Respondent was only entitled to assurance that each employee filing a charge against Horne would see information in no file other than his or her own. Pp. 603-604.

4th Cir., 607 F.2d 1075, reversed and remanded.

Barry Sullivan, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

Roger S. Kaplan, New York City, for respondent.

Page 592

Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 limits the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to make public disclosure of information it has obtained in investigating and attempting to resolve a claim of employment discrimination.1 We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit was correct in holding that a prelitigation disclosure of information in a Commission file to the employee who filed the Title VII claim is a "public" disclosure within the meaning of the statutory restrictions. 445 U.S. 926, 100 S.Ct. 1311, 63 L.Ed.2d 758.2

Page 593

I

This case arose when the Commission sought evidence with respect to discrimination charges filed against the Joseph Horne Co., a division of the respondent, Associated Dry Goods Corp. Horne operates retail department stores in Pennsylvania. Between 1971 and 1973, seven Horne employees filed employment discrimination charges with the Commission, six alleging sex discrimination and one alleging racial discrimination. The Commission began its investigation by requesting Horne to provide the employment records of the complainants, and statistics, documents, and other information relating to Horne's general personnel practices. Horne refused to provide the information unless the Commission agreed beforehand not to disclose any of the requested material to the charging parties. The Commission refused to give this assurance, explaining its practice of making limited disclosure to a charging party of information in his and other files when he needs that information in connection with a potential lawsuit.3 When Horne continued to refuse

Page 594

to provide the information without an assurance of absolute secrecy, the Commission subpoenaed the material. After the Commission rejected Horne's petition for revocation of the agency subpoena, the respondent filed this suit, asking the District Court to declare that the Commission's limited disclosure practices violated Title VII, and to enjoin the Commission from enforcing the subpoena.4

The District Court, concluding that the Commission's disclosure of confidential information to charging parties upsets Title VII's scheme of negotiation and settlement, held that the regulations and the provisions in the Compliance Manual covering special disclosure to charging parties violate Title VII. Accordingly, the court enforced the subpoena only on the condition that the Commission treat charging parties as members of the "public" to whom it cannot disclose any information in its files. 454 F.Supp. 387 (ED Va.). The

Page 595

Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's judgment. EEOC v. Joseph Horne Co., 607 F.2d 1075.

II

In enacting Title VII, Congress combined administrative and judicial means of eliminating employment discrimination. A person claiming to be the victim of discrimination must first file a charge with the Commission. The Commission must then serve notice of the charge on the employer, and begin an investigation to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the charge is true. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). If it finds no such reasonable cause, the Commission must dismiss the charge. Ibid. If it does find reasonable cause, it must try to eliminate the alleged discriminatory practice "by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion." Ibid.5 If its attempts at conciliation fail, the Commission may bring a civil action against the employer. § 2000e-5(f)(1). But Title VII also makes private lawsuits by aggrieved employees an important part of its means of enforcement. If the Commission dismisses the charge, the employee may immediately file a private action. Ibid. And regardless of whether the Commission finds reasonable cause, the employee may bring an action 180 days after filing the charge if by that time the Commission has not filed its own lawsuit. Ibid.6

Page 596

Title VII gives the Commission two formal means of obtaining information when it investigates a charge: The Commission may examine and copy evidence in the possession of the respondent employer, § 2000e-8(a), and subpoena evidence and documents, § 2000e-9. Congress imposed on the Commission a duty to maintain this information in confidence. Section 706(b) of Title VII directs that "[c]harges shall not be made public by the Commission." 7 If the Commission attempts informally to resolve a charge for which it has found reasonable cause, it cannot make "public" anything said or done in the course of the negotiations between the Commission and the parties; any Commission employee violating this prohibition faces criminal penalties. Ibid. Section 709(e) of the statute supplements these prohibitions by making it a misdemeanor for any officer or employee of the Commission "to make public in any manner whatever any information" the Commission obtains through its investigative powers before the institution of any proceeding involving this information.8

Title VII nowhere defines "public." In its regulation governing disclosure, the Commission has construed the statute's prohibition of "public" release of information to permit prelitigation disclosure of charges and of investigative information to the parties where such disclosure "is deemed necessary for securing appropriate relief." 29 CFR § 1601.22 (1979). Specifically, the Commission has also created special disclosure rules permitting release of information in its files to charging parties or their attorneys, aggrieved persons in whose behalf charges have been filed and the persons or organizations who

Page 597

have filed the charges in their behalf, and respondents and their attorneys, so long as the request for the information is made in connection with contemplated litigation.9 Though normally a person can see information in the file only for the case in which he is directly involved, the Commission sometimes allows a prospective litigant to see information in files of cases brought by other employees against the same employer where that information...

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113 practice notes
  • Poindexter v. F.B.I., No. 83-1151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 26, 1984
    ...Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey, 447 U.S. 54, 63, 100 S.Ct. 2024, 2030, 64 L.Ed.2d 723 (1980). See also EEOC v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590, 602, 101 S.Ct. 817, 824, 66 L.Ed.2d 762 (1981) (private right of action is "important part of Title VII's scheme of enforcement"); Christian......
  • Venetian Casino Resort v. E.E.O.C., No. CIV. 00-2980 RJL.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 29, 2006
    ...appropriate relief."7 29 C.F.R. § 1601.22 (emphasis added); see also Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590, 596, 101 S.Ct. 817, 66 L.Ed.2d 762 (1981). Indeed, the EEOC's disclosure regulation specifically codifies this position. See 29. C.F.R. § 160......
  • Garner v. Pearson, No. 72-416 Civ. T-K.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • July 23, 1982
    ...Co., 200 So. 233 (Fla.1941); Harnish v. Peele, 386 So.2d 8 (Fla.App.1980); Revell v. Crews, 97 So.2d 336 (Fla.App.1957), Cert. denied, 449 U.S. 590, 101 So.2d 817, 66 L.Ed.2d 762 (Fla. 1958); Womack v. Madison Drug Co., 155 Fla. 335, 20 So.2d 256 (Fla.1944). In Womack v. Madison Drug Co., s......
  • Barnett v. Weinberger, No. 81-2122
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • May 15, 1987
    ...at 328, 24 L.Ed.2d at 360 (stressing importance of communication of agency viewpoint to Congress). 73 EEOC v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590, 600 n. 17, 101 S.Ct. 817, 823 n. 17, 66 L.Ed.2d 762, 770 n. 17 (1981); National Muffler Dealers Ass'n v. United States, 440 U.S. 472, 477, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
113 cases
  • Poindexter v. F.B.I., No. 83-1151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 26, 1984
    ...Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey, 447 U.S. 54, 63, 100 S.Ct. 2024, 2030, 64 L.Ed.2d 723 (1980). See also EEOC v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590, 602, 101 S.Ct. 817, 824, 66 L.Ed.2d 762 (1981) (private right of action is "important part of Title VII's scheme of enforcement"); Christian......
  • Venetian Casino Resort v. E.E.O.C., No. CIV. 00-2980 RJL.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 29, 2006
    ...appropriate relief."7 29 C.F.R. § 1601.22 (emphasis added); see also Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590, 596, 101 S.Ct. 817, 66 L.Ed.2d 762 (1981). Indeed, the EEOC's disclosure regulation specifically codifies this position. See 29. C.F.R. § 160......
  • Garner v. Pearson, No. 72-416 Civ. T-K.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • July 23, 1982
    ...Co., 200 So. 233 (Fla.1941); Harnish v. Peele, 386 So.2d 8 (Fla.App.1980); Revell v. Crews, 97 So.2d 336 (Fla.App.1957), Cert. denied, 449 U.S. 590, 101 So.2d 817, 66 L.Ed.2d 762 (Fla. 1958); Womack v. Madison Drug Co., 155 Fla. 335, 20 So.2d 256 (Fla.1944). In Womack v. Madison Drug Co., s......
  • Barnett v. Weinberger, No. 81-2122
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • May 15, 1987
    ...at 328, 24 L.Ed.2d at 360 (stressing importance of communication of agency viewpoint to Congress). 73 EEOC v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590, 600 n. 17, 101 S.Ct. 817, 823 n. 17, 66 L.Ed.2d 762, 770 n. 17 (1981); National Muffler Dealers Ass'n v. United States, 440 U.S. 472, 477, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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