Last week, Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment in favor of Bloomberg L.P. on gender/pregnancy discrimination claims that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) had brought on behalf of 29 claimants. This decision follows on the heels of a similar decision reached by the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals last year in EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc.. (In the Southern District of New York case, the court also granted the majority of Bloomberg L.P.’s motion for summary judgment on the claims asserted by six individual plaintiffs).
Under Title VII, an action for an alleged violation can be brought by the affected individual or by the EEOC. However, before the EEOC can initiate such an enforcement action in court, it is required to provide notice to the employer, investigate the charge, determine that there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of Title VII occurred, notify the employer of that determination, and make a good faith effort to conciliate the charge. In both the Eighth Circuit and S.D.N.Y. cases, the courts determined that the EEOC’s actions “foreclosed any possibility that the parties might settle all or some of this dispute without the expense of a federal lawsuit,” as Title VII prefers. In the EEOC’s case against Bloomberg L.P., Chief Judge Preska also found that after the court had dismissed the EEOC’s pattern-or-practice claim, the agency failed to investigate and make a reasonable cause determination with respect to the individual claims. Rather, the EEOC sought to apply its investigation and reasonable cause determination concerning the pattern-or-practice claim to the individual claims, which the court found impermissible.
Given the court’s finding that “the EEOC completely abdicate[d] its role in the administrative process,” Chief Judge Preska ruled that the proper remedy was dismissal of the EEOC’s complaint, as opposed to “a stay to permit serious settlement discussions,” even though some of the individuals’ “claims may be meritorious but now will never see the inside of a courtroom.” Additionally, in her conclusion, Chief Judge Preska deemed Bloomberg L.P. a prevailing party under Title VII, and invited the company to file an application for attorneys’ fees.
Given the implication of this ruling, the EEOC likely will appeal Chief Judge Preska’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.