EEOC V. SHELL OIL CO., 466 U. S. 54 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

EEOC v. Shell Oil Co., 466 U.S. 54 (1984)

EEOC v. Shell Oil Co.

No. 82-825

Argued October 31, 1983

Decided April 2, 1984

466 U.S. 54


Section 707(e) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Act) authorizes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) "to investigate and act on a charge" that an employer has engaged in "a pattern or practice" of employment discrimination. Section 706(b) provides that such a charge "shall be in writing under oath or affirmation and shall contain such information and be in such form as the Commission requires," and further requires the EEOC to

"serve a notice of the charge (including the date, place and circumstances of the alleged unlawful employment practice) on [the] employer . . . within ten days"

of the filing of the charge. An implementing regulation provides that a charge of discrimination must

"contain . . . [a] clear and concise statement of the facts, including the pertinent dates, constituting the alleged unlawful employment practices."

A Commissioner of the EEOC issued a sworn charge against respondent employer, alleging that it had violated the Act by discriminating against Negroes and women in "recruitment, hiring, selection, job assignment, training, testing, promotion, and terms and conditions of employment." The charge also specified the occupational categories access to which had been affected by the alleged discrimination. A copy of the charge was served on respondent 10 days after the charge was filed. Thereafter, respondent claimed that the charge was "not supportable by the facts," and when it persistently refused to provide the EEOC with certain requested records and data, the EEOC issued a subpoena duces tecum, directing respondent to turn over the information. Instead of complying with the subpoena, respondent filed suit in Federal District Court to quash the subpoena and enjoin the EEOC's investigation, alleging that the subpoena was unenforceable because the EEOC had failed to disclose facts sufficient to satisfy § 706(b)'s mandate. The charge was then amended to allege that respondent had engaged in the identified unlawful employment practices on a continuing basis from at least the effective date of the Act until the present. When respondent still refused to comply with the request for information, the EEOC filed suit in Federal District Court requesting enforcement of the subpoena, and this suit was consolidated with respondent's suit.

Page 466 U. S. 55

The District Court denied respondent relief and enforced the subpoena. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the EEOC had failed to comply with either § 706(b) or the implementing regulation, that the charge and notice should inform the employer of the approximate dates of the unlawful practices, should include enough other information to show that those dates have some "basis in fact," and should contain a "statement of the circumstances" of the alleged violations "supported by some factual or statistical basis."

Held: All of the strictures embodied in Title VII and the implementing regulation pertaining to the form and content of a charge of systemic discrimination and to the timing and adequacy of the notice afforded the employer were adhered to in this case, and therefore the EEOC was entitled to enforcement of its subpoena. 466 U. S. 61-82.

(a) In determining the EEOC's authority to request judicial enforcement of its subpoenas, effect must be given to Congress' purpose in establishing a linkage between the EEOC's investigatory power and charges of discrimination. If the EEOC were able to insist that an employer obey a subpoena despite the complainant's failure to file a valid charge, Congress' desire to prevent the EEOC from exercising unconstrained investigative authority would be thwarted. Accordingly, the existence of a charge that meets the requirements of § 706(b) is a jurisdictional prerequisite to judicial enforcement of a subpoena issued by the EEOC. And, for purposes of this case, it is assumed that compliance with § 706(b)'s notice requirement is also a jurisdictional prerequisite to enforcement of a subpoena. Pp. 466 U. S. 61-67.

(b) The prescription embodied in the implementing regulation, as applied to a charge alleging a "pattern or practice" of discrimination, should be construed as follows: insofar as he is able, the Commissioner issuing the charge should identify the groups of persons that he has reason to believe have been discriminated against, the categories of employment positions from which they have been excluded, the methods by which the discrimination may have been effected, and the periods of time in which he suspects the discrimination to have been practiced. The charge issued here, as amended, plainly satisfied these standards. Pp. 466 U. S. 67-74.

(c) The specific purpose of § 706(b)'s notice provision is to give an employer fair notice of the existence and nature of the allegations against it, and not to impose a substantive constraint on the EEOC's investigative authority. Properly construed, § 706(b) requires the EEOC, within 10 days of the filing of a charge, to reveal to the employer all of the information that must be included in the charge itself under the current version of the implementing regulation. Because in this case respondent was

Page 466 U. S. 56

provided with a copy of the charge 10 days after it was filed, and because the charge comported with the regulation, the notice provision was satisfied. Pp. 466 U. S. 74-81.

676 F.2d 322, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 466 U. S. 82.

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