No reciprocity exists in the new nationwide procedure announced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) late last week. The EEOC now will provide employer position statements and any non-confidential attachments to a charging party during an investigation upon request. It then will permit the charging party to submit a response within 20 days. However, the EEOC will not afford employers the right to receive a copy of the charging party’s response.
As you may know, after an employee or other aggrieved individual files a charge with the EEOC, the agency begins an investigation of the allegations. As part of the investigation, the EEOC will request that the employer (the respondent) submit a position statement, responding to the allegations and providing supporting documentation of its employment decisions that allegedly affected the charging party.
Some EEOC regional offices already release employer position statements to the charging party and allow the charging party to file a response. For employers in those EEOC districts, there is little change in procedure. According to the EEOC, however, this new nationwide procedure is intended to provide a consistent approach in all of its offices.
Take note – these procedures apply to position statements you already may be drafting, or have recently submitted, as they apply to all EEOC requests for position statements made to respondents on or after January 1, 2016.
EEOC Providing Only The First Formal Document From Each Side
In justifying its policy to provide the employer’s position statement to the charging party, but not providing the charging party’s response to the employer, the EEOC states that it is releasing the first formal document received from each party. The respondent receives the Charge and the charging party may receive the respondent’s position statement. The EEOC does not intend to release other documents during the investigation process.
Does this amount to a one-sided discovery request? In other words, by requesting copies of what the respondent submitted to the EEOC, does the charging party get the unreciprocated right to learn the identification of witnesses, decision-makers, applicable company policies, internal documentation of the employment decision, and other important information? The EEOC states this new process is intended to help accelerate the investigation and allow it to better tailor its requests for additional information. But, employer respondents will likely see the procedure as requiring it to lay its cards on the table while permitting the charging party to keep its cards largely hidden.
Use Care With Confidential Information
Respondents who rely on confidential information in their position statements should use care in segregating that information in separate attachments that are labeled “Confidential” or some similar designation. Examples of “confidential” information include birth dates, confidential commercial or financial information, trade secrets, non-relevant personally identifiable information of witnesses, comparators or third parties, references to charges filed against the respondent by other charging parties, and sensitive medical information of others (not the charging party). The EEOC states, however, that it will not accept blanket or unsupported assertions of confidentiality, so be prepared to justify why particular information must be protected.
Be careful, too, when submitting position statements and attachments through the EEOC’s online portal. Once you click “Save Upload” to submit your position statement and any attachments, you will not be able to retract them.
Will The New Procedure Change Outcomes?
It’s important to ask whether the early release of the respondent’s position statement (with supporting documents) to the charging party during the EEOC’s investigation will change the outcome of charges. As with any case, it largely depends on the facts. If you have bad facts or poor documentation on your side, the charge may result in a probable cause finding. Or, the charging party may hold out for more during settlement talks or mediation. However, if you have good policies in place, enforce them uniformly, and document your decisions properly, the release of your defense may help resolve the matter earlier in the process, short of litigation.