On November 6, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit reined in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) use of a broad administrative subpoena in an investigation of an individual charge of discrimination.  The case is EEOC v. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd.

In 2010, Jose Morabito, an Argentinean national filed a charge of discrimination alleging that Royal Caribbean violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to renew his employment contract after he was diagnosed with a medical condition (HIV and Kaposi Sarcoma).  Royal Caribbean responded that the ADA did not apply to Mr. Morabito because he was a foreign national who was employed on a ship flying under the flag of the Bahamas and that Royal Caribbean was required to follow the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) medical standards which permanently disqualified him from duty. 

After receipt of Royal Caribbean’s position statement, the EEOC issued an administrative subpoena that requested in part:

  1. List all employees who were discharged or whose contracts were not renewed [from August 25, 2009, through the present] due to a medical reason.
  2. For each employee listed in response to request number 1, include the employee’s name, citizenship, employment contract, position title, reason for and date of discharge, a copy of the separation notice and the last known contact information for each individual.
  3. For each employee listed in response to request number 1, include their employment application and related correspondence, any interview notes, the identity of the person who hired the employee, how the employee obtained the position (i.e., online, in person, recruiter), the location where the employee was interviewed, and the identity and location of the person who made the final hiring decision.
  4. List all the persons who applied for a position but were not hired within the relevant period due to a medical reason
  5. For each person listed in response to request number 4, include their citizenship, employment application and related correspondence, any interview notes, the identity of the person [who] hired the employee, how the employee learned of the position (i.e., online, in person, recruiter), the location where the employee was interviewed, and the identity and location of the person who made the final hiring decision.

Royal Caribbean partially complied by providing records for employees and applicants who were United States citizens.  The EEOC filed a petition to compel the rest of the records.  The magistrate judge recommended that the petition be denied because the information sought was not relevant to Mr. Morabito’s charge and compliance with the disputed portion of the subpoena would be unduly burdensome.  The district court agreed.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and  stated that while there may be some situations in which statistical data may be relevant, this was not one of them.  The court found that it was difficult to see how the additional information would shed light on Mr. Morabito’s charge because Royal Caribbean admitted that he was terminated because of his medical condition as required by the BMA.  That issued was settled. 

The Eleventh Circuit said, “The relevance necessary to support a subpoena for the investigation of an individual charge is relevance to the contested issues that must be decided to resolve the charge, not relevance to issues that may be contested when and if future charges are brought by others.”  Here the only remaining contested issues were whether the EEOC has jurisdiction over his claim and whether the BMA standards provide a valid reason for Royal Caribbean’s employment decision.  The EEOC failed to show how the additional information would aid in resolving those remaining issues in dispute regarding the individual charge.  

The appeals court also agreed with the magistrate and district judges that compliance with the disputed portion of the subpoena would be unduly burdensome.