Court Sinks EEOC’s Broad Subpoena

By Bryan Stillwagon

Although the EEOC frequently attempts to expand its investigation of a charge far beyond a single complainant, some courts allow employers to defend against the agency’s broad subpoenas if the subpoenas are irrelevant to the individual charge under investigation. In EEOC v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, No. 13-13519 (11th Cir. Nov. 6, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit rejected the EEOC’s attempt to investigate all foreign nationals terminated by Royal Caribbean because of medical issues. Plaintiff, who had been diagnosed with HIV and Kaposi’s sarcoma, filed a charge of discrimination after the Company declined to renew his employment contract. The Company admitted it acted because of plaintiff’s medical condition, which made him unfit for his seafarer duties under Bahamian law.

The Court of Appeals held that the Company’s admission made the issue of other employees irrelevant. The information sought by the EEOC’s subpoena must be relevant to the matter of the individual complainant, not relevant “to issues that may be contested when and if future charges are brought by others.”