Supreme Court Affirms Rights to Challenge Agency Actions in EEOC Case
Last week the NFIB Small Business Legal Center applauded the Supreme Court for its holding in Mach Mining v. EEOC. In that case a business sought to contest the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) authority to bring a civil action against it for alleged discriminatory employment practices. While EEOC is charged with enforcing our federal civil rights laws in the workplace, federal law also requires EEOC to attempt to conciliate with the parties involved in a dispute before initiating a lawsuit. But when the Mach Mining company raised this point in court—arguing that EEOC could not bring its civil action against the company because it had failed to engage in any good faith conciliation efforts—EEOC argued that defendant companies cannot raise this statutory violation as a defense to the suit.
We were immensely pleased with the decision in Mach Mining because the Supreme Court affirmed that businesses can raise EEOC’s failure to conciliate as a defense. As we emphasized in our press release, it’s always preferable if legal disputes can be worked out without dropping the hammer on a small business. To be sure, Congress wanted EEOC to attempt conciliation because that promotes the social goals embodied in federal civil rights laws and in a less costly manner than a full-out lawsuit. To be sure, things get immensely costly—for business defendants and taxpayers alike—when EEOC goes to court.
Of course we think this is an important decision because it emphasizes that agencies are limited in power and are not free to ignore plain statutory mandates. But it was also important in reaffirming the principle that individuals and businesses have the right to challenge agency actions (or in this case, inaction). Remarkably, this is not the first time we’ve had to weigh-in to defend this principle in federal court. And it won’t likely be the last. In fact, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency will soon be appealing a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal holding that landowners have a right to contest the agency’s assertion of jurisdiction over their property. For more on that case, Pacific Legal Foundation’s Reed Hopper offers commentary over at the PLF Liberty Blog. And for more on Mach Mining, the Washington Post offers a fine summary here.