By Camille A. Olson and Gerald L. Maatman, Jr.

The EEOC has encountered a series of set-backs over the last several years in terms of big losses and fee sanction awards. Our past blog posts have reported on these court rulings and defeats (here, here, here, and here.) As a result, criticism has mounted, stakeholders have complained, and now some members of Congress want to do something about it.

Most recently, on June 10, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing entitled “The Regulatory and Enforcement Priorities of the EEOC: Examining the Concerns of Stakeholders.” Representatives of various stake-holders testified, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Referencing complaints raised at EEOC meetings in 2012 and 2013, the Chamber pointed to a rare consensus between plaintiff and defense bars — that EEOC investigations “[are] too long, inconsistent and of questionable quality.” The Chamber noted that the EEOC has so far failed to address those complaints by providing investigators with timeliness standards or a definition of a “quality, limited investigation.” In addition, the Chamber highlighted the agency’s propensity for litigation at the expense of sound investigation and good-faith conciliation. As a key example, the Chamber cited the EEOC’s “stonewalling” in EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., where EEOC’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies and to properly investigate before resorting to litigation led to $4.7 million in sanctions. The Chamber’s testimony can be downloaded here. Concurrent with the hearing, the Chamber released a white paper entitled “Review of Enforcement and Litigation Strategy during the Obama Administration—A Misuse of Authority.”

Against this backdrop, on June 25, 2014, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) a member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, introduced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 4959). A Fact Sheet on the proposed bill is here.

Summary Of H.R. 4959

The proposed legislation would require the EEOC to post on its website and in its annual report an array of information to promote transparency.

In a press release announcing the bill, Congressman Hudson said: “The EEOC is tasked with a noble mission to protect American workers and job-seekers from discrimination in the workplace and hiring practices. Recently, however, the EEOC has overstepped its bounds by litigating numerous cases found to be frivolous, groundless, and baseless that has caused undue burdens on numerous businesses and industries. It is critical that Congress provides meaningful oversight to certify that the EEOC stays focused on carrying out its core mission. This legislation will increase transparency and accountability at the EEOC to help ensure that the agency fulfills its duty and adequately balances the interests of both employers and workers.”

Among other things, the proposed legislation would require the EEOC to post on its website and in its annual report an array of information to promote transparency, including any case in which EEOC was required to pay fees or costs, or where a sanction was imposed against it by a court; the total number of charges filed by an EEOC member or as a result of a directed investigation; and each systemic discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC.

It also would require the EEOC to conduct conciliation endeavors in good faith and such endeavors would be subject to judicial review.

Further, the bill would require the EEOC’s Inspector General (IG) to notify Congress within 14 days when a court has ordered sanctions against EEOC. The IG must also conduct a thorough investigation of why the agency brought the case, and submit a report to Congress within 90 days of the court’s decision explaining why sanctions were imposed. In addition, the bill would require the EEOC to submit a report to Congress within 60 days of the court’s decision detailing steps EEOC is taking to reduce instances in which it is subject to court-ordered sanctions; further, the EEOC would have to post this report to its website within 30 days of submitting to Congress.

Implications for Employers

The proposed bill is one measure of the degree of frustration that stakeholders have with the job the EEOC is doing. While no one questions the importance of the Commission’s mission to root out and eradicate employment discrimination, many question the manner in which the EEOC has wielded its power. Employers should stay tuned, as future chapters in this debate are sure to be written in the coming months.