Contributed by Terry Fox
On September 18, 2012, the EEOC decided not to appeal from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ noteworthy decision in EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 09 -3764/09-3765/10-1682. In a nutshell, the EEOC was sanctioned in that case by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa in an order issued February 9, 2010.
District Court Sanctioned EEOC
The District Court barred the claims of 120 women that the EEOC claimed were sexually harassed at Defendant trucking company during training. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 07 CV 95. The EEOC brought suit on behalf of 270 allegedly aggrieved women but failed to produce 120 of these claimants for deposition. Through a series of summary judgment rulings, the District Court ultimately determined only 67 claims were at issue. Then the District Court dismissed those remaining 67 claims as a discovery sanction because the EEOC “wholly abandoned its statutory duties” by not conducting pre-suit investigations. 07 CV 95, Slip Op., p.4. (2/9/10). The District Court concluded CRST was the “prevailing party” on its motions for summary judgment and awarded the Defendant attorney’s fees and costs. That determination was made on its finding that the EEOC “‘engaged in an unreasonable and vexatious course of proceeding’” . . . and had “failed to investigate and attempt to conciliate the individual claims [which] constituted an unreasonable failure to satisfy Title VII’s prerequisites to suit.” Slip Op.,p.14. It awarded CRST a total of $4,467,442.90.
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirmed In Part, Reversed In Part
While the Eighth Circuit reversed the award of prevailing party fees to CRST, because it reversed summary judgments to a handful of women on the merits of their timely filed claims, it affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of 67 claims because the EEOC failed to investigate and conciliate their claims via the charge process. 09-3764, et al., Slip Op. 14-15 (5/8/12). Citing precedent, the CRST Court noted that the EEOC may not use discovery in a filed lawsuit to determine the identities of putative victims of discrimination. Instead, it must provide the employer with particular notice of charges lodged against it and provide a meaningful opportunity for the employer to conciliate to resolve those charges before suit is brought. Id., p.23.
Significance of EEOC’s Failure to Appeal
The EEOC opted not to appeal the CRST decision to the United States Supreme Court. This is significant in those states that make up the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals [Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas], because the EEOC may not bring a putative class action against an employer without all aggrieved employees having filed and pursued EEOC Charges of Discrimination. However, the decision is apt to have an impact beyond those courts within the Eighth Circuit. As pointed out in the amicus brief filed by the Equal Employment Advisory Council, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, and others, the charge process provided by Title VII provides a cost-effective method for investigation, voluntary compliance, avoid depositions of countless claimants, and tends to preserve good will between the employer and employees by informally resolving disputes before acrimony hardens the resolve of litigants.