The Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the EEOC can enforce a subpoena in a case where the complainant has withdrawn the complaint as part of a settlement.
The EEOC had intervened on behalf of an African-American applicant who had been rejected for a job by Florida-based Watkins Motor Lines. When Watkins settled with the applicant, one of the conditions was that he withdraw the EEOC complaint.
The case began with a gruesome background. Watkins Motor Lines instituted a policy of not hiring anyone convicted of a violent crime after incidents of violence within the company in 2004: On three occasions, Watson employees had tried to kill co-workers.
Shortly after the policy went into effect, Lyndon Jackson, who is black, was rejected for employment because of his criminal record. He complained to the EEOC, and the commission took up his case. It eventually concluded that Watkins’ policy has a disparate impact on African-Americans. It began subpoenaing job applications and hiring data from the company.
In the meantime, Jackson settled with Watkins. That’s when Watkins moved to have the EEOC’s subpoena quashed, citing its settlement in Jackson’s case. The EEOC claimed its investigation was ongoing and it would not allow the applicant to withdraw his complaint.
When U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer sided with Watkins, the EEOC appealed. The 7th Circuit then ruled that quashing the subpoena would allow Watkins to “decapitate a class” of aggrieved applicants and workers by buying off the one person filing the complaint. The subpoena stands.
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