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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Joon, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

May 15, 2019

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
JOON, LLC, d/b/a AJIN USA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) brought this action for judicial enforcement of an administrative subpoena it issued to Joon, LLC, d/b/a Ajin USA (“Ajin”). The subpoena pertains to the EEOC's investigation into a third-party charge of employment discrimination filed against Ajin. In response, Ajin moved to quash the subpoena. (Doc. # 9.) Before the court is the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation that the district court issue the subpoena but narrow its scope. Ajin filed objections to the Recommendation. (Doc. # 23.) It argues that the EEOC lacked authority to issue the subpoena on grounds that the underlying third-party charge is untimely and not based on personal knowledge. (Doc. # 52.)

         Having conducted a de novo review of those portions of the Recommendation to which objection is made, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the court will overrule the objections, adopt the Recommendation as modified, and deny Ajin's motion to quash. Accordingly, the EEOC's application for an order directing Ajin to comply with the subpoena and for costs will be granted.

         I. JURISDICTION

         The EEOC may apply to the district court in the jurisdiction where it is investigating for an order to compel production of subpoenaed information. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-9 (incorporating by reference 29 U.S.C. § 161(2)). This court has jurisdiction because Ajin is located in this district.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Simon Gang's third-party charge is the catalyst for the EEOC's investigation of Ajin's employment practices pertaining to its internship program. A brief background on Gang's employment with Ajin and his EEOC filings is helpful to provide context to the issues under consideration. Gang is a former employee of Ajin, which is an automotive body parts manufacturer located in Cusseta, Alabama. He contends that Ajin made his work conditions so intolerable that he had to resign. He resigned on March 26, 2015, and filed an EEOC charge against Ajin, alleging that it constructively discharged him based on his national origin (“first-party charge”).

         This subpoena enforcement proceeding is not about Gang's first-party charge. It is about the EEOC charge Gang filed on August 8, 2016, five hundred and two days after his resignation. Namely, on this date, Gang filed a charge, not as an aggrieved person, but on behalf of other Korean employees of Ajin (“third-party charge” or “charge”).[1] In his third-party charge, Gang contends that, during his employment with Ajin, he also “witnessed [A]in's] disparate treatment of Korean employees.” (Doc. # 1-1, at 6.) He asserts that Ajin subjected Korean interns to various forms of national origin discrimination, that they tolerated the discrimination “in hopes for immigration status sponsorship, ” and that “he believes these practices continue.” (Doc. # 1-1, at 6.)

         Gang filed his charge using the form provided by the EEOC (“EEOC Form 5”). The EEOC Form 5 includes a block that requires claimants to include the earliest and latest dates on which the discrimination took place. In this block, Gang indicates that the discrimination took place beginning on March 3, 2016, and continued until July 28, 2016, in violation of “the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.” (Doc. #1-1, at 5.) He also checked the box for a “continuing violation.” (Doc. # 1-1, at 5.) Gang signed the third-party charge under penalty of perjury and dated it. (Doc. # 1-1, at 6.)

         In its investigation of Gang's third-party charge, the EEOC issued a subpoena to Ajin to produce documents pertaining to Ajin's internship program. The subpoena sought information about Ajin's practices for recruiting and hiring interns from Korea and requested documentation as to the interns' identities, job assignments, pay, and living arrangements. (Doc. # 1-1, at 18-20); see also 29 U.S.C. § 161(1) (permitting the EEOC to issue “subp[o]enas requiring the attendance and testimony of witnesses or the production of any evidence”). After the EEOC rejected Ajin's petition to revoke the subpoena, Ajin still refused to comply with it. (Doc. # 1-1, at 24-40.) Hence, the EEOC brought this action asking the court to issue an order enforcing the subpoena pursuant to § 161(2).

         In the Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge concludes that the EEOC has authority to issue the subpoena because, contrary to Ajin's position, Gang's third-party charge is timely on its face and any “perceived deficiency in the verification of Gang's charge may be cured during the course of the EEOC's investigation.” (Doc. # 22, at 3-7.) But the Magistrate Judge imposed temporal limitations and narrowed the scope of documents that Ajin must produce. (Doc. # 22, at 7-12.) Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommends enforcement of the EEOC subpoena, as modified, and the denial of Ajin's motion to quash. Ajin objects.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Title VII “entrusts the enforcement of that prohibition to the EEOC.” McLane Co. v. E.E.O.C., 137 S.Ct. 1159, 1164 (2017) (citation omitted). The EEOC's “responsibilities are triggered by the filing of a specific sworn charge of discrimination.” McLane Co., 137 S.Ct. at 1164 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). An EEOC charge can be filed “by or on behalf of” aggrieved parties who have suffered employment discrimination prohibited by Title VII. § 2000e- 5(b). “When it receives a charge, the EEOC must first notify the employer and must then investigate to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true.” McLane Co., 137 S.Ct. at 1164 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also § 2000e-5(b) (providing that, “[w]henever a charge is filed, ” the EEOC “shall make an investigation thereof”).

         “The EEOC's authority to investigate under Title VII is quite broad.” E.E.O.C. v. Tempel Steel Co., 814 F.2d 482, 485 (7th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted). The EEOC “shall” have access to “any evidence” of any person under investigation “that relates to unlawful employment practices . . . and is relevant to the charge under investigation.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-8(a). To aid its investigation, the EEOC has “the authority to issue administrative subpoenas and to request judicial enforcement of those subpoenas” against non-complying employers. E.E.O.C. v. Shell Oil Co., 466 U.S. 54, 63 (1984) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-9); see also § 161(1).

         A subpoena enforcement proceeding is “designed to be summary in nature.” Tempel Steel, 814 F.2d at 485. A court should “not . . . encourage or allow an employer to turn a summary subpoena-enforcement proceeding into a mini-trial by allowing it to interpose defenses that are more properly addressed at trial.” E.E.O.C. v. Dillon Cos., 310 F.3d 1271, 1277 (10th Cir. 2002). Hence, “[a] district court's role in a proceeding to enforce an administrative subpoena is limited.” U.S. E.E.O.C. v. Tire Kingdom, Inc., 80 F.3d 449, 450 (11th Cir. 1996);see also E.E.O.C. v. KlosterCruise Ltd., 939 F.2d 920, 922 (11th Cir. 1991) (“It is well-settled that the role of a district court in a proceeding to enforce an administrative subpoena is sharply limited.”). “The court may inquire into (1) whether the ...


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