What Happens if Company Does Not Respond to EEOC Complaint Investigation?

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting complaints of workplace discrimination. The EEOC has authority to issue a subpoena to an employer seeking documents and access to interview employees. Refusal to comply with a subpoena may result in severe civil and possible criminal penalties.

EEOC Investigative Procedure

Employers generally don't receive its first notice of an ongoing EEOC investigation through a subpoena. Rather, an EEOC investigator provides a written notice of a charge of workplace discrimination and requests the employer provide a written response. Following this initial response, EEOC investigators may request copies of relevant employer policies and records, make onsite visits, and conduct interviews with employees. If the employer refuses to cooperate with the investigation, the EEOC may issue a subpoena for the records or access to interview employees.

Subpoena Enforcement

Failure to comply with a subpoena may result in the EEOC filing a subpoena enforcement action against the employer in the United States District Court. In seeking enforcement of the subpoena, the EEOC requests the court issue an order requiring the employer to comply with the request for information or else face sanctions. If the employer violates the court's order, the court may require the employer pay the EEOC's attorney's fees and court costs as well as a civil fine. Further refusal to comply with the court's order may result in the employer being found in contempt of court, with the responsible management officials facing possible jail time.

Impact on Discrimination Case

In addition to subpoena enforcement actions, the EEOC may also have filed a separate civil action against the employer on behalf of the employee complaining of discrimination. A failure to comply with an EEOC subpoena may also result in the judge presiding over the civil suit to issue sanctions against the employer, such as an inference that the documents showed discrimination. Additionally, the EEOC may also issue a press release publicly denouncing the employer's failure to follow the law.

Employer's Appropriate Subpoena Response

The most appropriate response to a subpoena by the EEOC is for an employer to produce the requested documents. However, if an employer does not believe the EEOC has appropriate authority to seek production of records or witnesses, it may file a request in U.S. District Court asking a judge to quash the subpoena by declaring it invalid.

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