Seyfarth Synopsis: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held that a district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to enforce a far-reaching EEOC administrative subpoena relating to one employee's charge of disability and pregnancy discrimination. The case is important for all employers involved in EEOC investigations.
Employers facing EEOC litigation are often confronted with requests for information and subpoenas that ask for a substantial amount of personnel information, even if the investigation concerns a single employee's charge of discrimination. After the EEOC sought to enforce an administrative subpoena requesting information about a large number of employees of TriCore Reference Laboratories ("TriCore") over a period of several years, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico declined to enforce subpoena. Following the EEOC's appeal - in EEOC v. TriCore Reference Labs., No. 16-2053 (10th Cir. Feb. 27, 2017) - the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling, finding the subpoena was overly broad and not relevant to the EEOC's investigation of a single employee's charge of discrimination. In the immortal words from the Jerry Seinfeld show, the Tenth Circuit said "no subpoena for you!"
In anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming decision in EEOC v. McLane Co., Inc., No. 15-1248 (2017), which will likely determine the standard of review for appellate courts considering district court decisions to either quash or enforce EEOC subpoenas (as we blogged about here), this ruling is an excellent victory for employers facing overly broad EEOC subpoenas. Further, this ruling deals a blow to the EEOC's aggressive strategy of using far-reaching subpoenas in investigations.
In 2011, Kellie Guadiana began working at the Albuquerque, New Mexico location of TriCore as a phlebotomist. Id. at 4. In November 2011, Guadiana requested accommodations to her work schedule and responsibilities due to her rheumatoid arthritis, which she asserted was exacerbated by her pregnancy. After reviewing the doctors' notes that Guadiana submitted in support of her requests, TriCore determined that she could not safely perform the essential functions of her position. TriCore offered Guadiana the opportunity to apply to other positions within the company for which she was qualified and whose essential functions she could perform. On May 5, 2012, after Guadiana did not apply to a...