EEOC v. Associated Dry Goods Corp.
449 U.S. 590 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

EEOC v. Associated Dry Goods Corp., 449 U.S. 590 (1981)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

v. Associated Dry Goods Corp.

No. 79-1068

Argued November 3, 1980

Decided January 26, 1981

449 U.S. 590

Syllabus

Section 706(b) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that employment discrimination charges "shall not be made public" by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and bars public disclosure of anything "said or done" during informal Commission settlement endeavors. Section 709(e) makes it a misdemeanor for any EEOC officer or employee "to make public" any information the EEOC obtains through its investigative powers before the institution of any proceeding involving such information. After employment discrimination charges were filed against a department store division (Horne) of respondent, the EEOC requested Horne to provide it with the complainants' employment records and other information relating to Horne's personnel practices. Horne refused to provide the information unless the EEOC agreed not to disclose it to the charging parties. The EEOC refused to give this assurance, explaining its practice, pursuant to regulations and its Compliance Manual, of making limited disclosure to a charging party of information in his and other files when he needs that information in connection with a potential lawsuit. When Horne continued to refuse to provide the requested information, the EEOC subpoenaed the material. Respondent then filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking to have the EEOC's limited disclosure practices declared in violation of Title VII and to enjoin enforcement of the subpoena. The District Court held that such practices violated Title VII, and accordingly enforced the subpoena only on the condition that the EEOC treat charging parties as members of the "public" to whom it cannot disclose any information in its files. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Congress did not include charging parties within the "public" to whom disclosure of confidential information is illegal under §§ 706(b) and 709(e). Pp. 449 U. S. 598-604.

(a) The "public" to whom §§ 706(b) and 709(e) forbid disclosure of charges and other information cannot logically include the parties to the agency proceeding, since the charges, of course, cannot be concealed from the charging party or from the respondent upon whom the statute requires notice to be served. A consistent reading of the statute requires that the "public" to whom § 709(e) prohibits disclosure

Page 449 U. S. 591

of information obtained in Commission investigations similarly exclude the parties. P. 449 U. S. 598.

(b) The legislative history of §§ 706(b) and 709(e) supports this reading of the statute. Pp. 449 U. S. 598-600.

(c) Moreover, such reading of the statute is consistent with the coordinated scheme of administrative and judicial enforcement of Title VII. Limited disclosure to the parties can speed the EEOC's required investigation and enhances its ability to carry out its statutory responsibility to resolve charges through informal conciliation and negotiation. Pp. 449 U. S. 600-602.

(d) Even if disclosure to charging parties may encourage litigation in some instances, this result is not inconsistent with Title VII's ultimate purposes of permitting a private right of action as an important part of the enforcement scheme. Pp. 449 U. S. 602-603.

(e) It was error to hold that respondent had a categorical right to refuse to comply with the EEOC subpoena unless the EEOC assured it that the information supplied would be held in absolute secrecy. Respondent was only entitled to assurance that each employee filing a charge against Horne would see information in no file other than his or her own. Pp. 449 U. S. 603-604.

607 F.2d 1075, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 449 U. S. 604. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 449 U. S. 606. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 449 U. S. 592

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