United States: No Means No – Judge Limits The EEOC's Claims In Bass Pro Case (Again)

Seyfarth Synopsis: In the high-profile EEOC race discrimination litigation against Bass Pro, the Court denied the EEOC's motion for a ruling that would have allowed it to include in its § 706 claims those individuals who had not yet applied to work for Bass Pro when the mandatory Title VII conciliation process took place.

The latest chapter of the EEOC's race discrimination case against Bass Pro (which we blogged about here and here) involves yet another attempt by the government to cast a broad net and increase the number of claimants in its lawsuit. This week, in EEOC v. Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC, et al., Case No. 11-CV-3425 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 3, 2017), Judge Keith P. Ellison of the U.S. District Court for Southern District of Texas denied the EEOC's motion for a ruling that would have allowed it to include claims in its lawsuit for individuals who had not yet applied to work for Bass Pro at the time conciliation took place, which is a mandatory pre-suit duty under Title VII.

For employers confronted with EEOC litigation, this ruling is positive in that shows how courts may be unwilling to allow to the EEOC to add claimants with whom it never conciliated.

Case Background

The EEOC brought a lawsuit alleging discriminatory hiring practices in violation of Title VII on behalf of a group of individuals allegedly discriminated against on the basis of their gender or race, both as a representative action (under § 706) and based on a pattern or practice theory (under § 707). On March 4, 2014, the Court issued several rulings (which we blogged about here) regarding whether the EEOC had satisfied Title VII's pre-suit requirements. Id. at 1. At the outset, the Court ruled that it must undertake a distinct analyses of the EEOC's § 706 and § 707 claims on the issue of conciliation. Accordingly, the Court held that while the EEOC had satisfied Title VII's conciliation requirements with regards to its § 707 claims, it failed to do so with its § 706 claims. The Court thus ordered a stay as the remedy for the EEOC's failure to properly conciliate the § 706 claims. Id. at 1-2. Further, the Court dismissed from the case all individuals who had not yet applied to work for Bass Pro by April 26, 2010, the date on which the EEOC issued its Letter of Determination (hereinafter "post-LOD applicants"). The Court reasoned that the EEOC could not have possibly conciliated the claims of these individuals as they had not yet applied to work for Bass Pro at the time the conciliation took place.

On July 30, 2014, in reversing an earlier ruling, the Court held (as we blogged about here) that the EEOC may prove its § 706 claims using the framework established in Franks v. Bowman Transportation Company, Inc., 424 U.S. 747 (1976), and later refined in International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324 (1977). Id. at 2. The Court further held that the EEOC had satisfied its Title VII administrative prerequisites (including its duties to investigate and conciliate) with regards to its § 706 claims, even for individuals not specifically identified in the investigation. After this ruling was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit, the EEOC argued that the post-LOD applicants must be restored to eligibility in the § 706 class.

The Decision

The Court denied the EEOC's motion for a ruling that the post-LOD applicants were eligible to participate with respect to the EEOC's § 706 claims. The EEOC claimed that Court's dismissal of the post-LOD applicants was fundamentally tied to two rulings that were subsequently overturned: (1) that the § 706 and § 707 claims must be analyzed separately on the issue of conciliation, and (2) that the Franks/Teamsters model could not be applied to § 706 claims. The Court rejected this argument, noting that when it dismissed the post-LOD applicants, it made no reference to those arguments and instead focused on the proper sequence of EEOC enforcement under Title VII. Id. at 3. Referencing its March 4, 2014 order, the Court explained that because by definition the post-LOD applicants applied after the EEOC's investigation was completed, the EEOC could not possibly have conciliated their claims. Accordingly, the Court opined that its reversal on the issues of separate conciliation and the application of the Franks/Teamsters model had no effect on the dismissal of the post-LOD applicants. Thus, the Court denied the EEOC's motion and held that the post-LOD applicants remained ineligible for the § 706 claims.

Implications For Employers

For employers facing EEOC litigation, any ruling that limits the size of the case is no doubt favorable in terms of minimizing potential financial exposure. While employers should be encouraged by this Court's willingness to hold the EEOC to its obligation to conciliate, there are several recent cases that argue that the courts' review of the EEOC's Title VII pre-suit duties remains limited. Ideally, this ruling will send the EEOC a message that it must abide by the conciliation process or risk losing its ability to bring suit on behalf of claimants with whom it did not conciliate.

Readers can also find this post on our EEOC Countdown blog here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Gerald L. Maatman Jr.
 
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