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Court Says EEOC Subpoena Overly Broad

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Cutting away at a subpoena for being too broad, a federal appeals court turned back an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling against the EEOC because the agency issued a subpoena that sought more information than justified by its investigation. The agency was investigating one worker's claim of pregnancy and disability discrimination, but had issued subpoenas for "a complete list" of records about other pregnant or disabled employees.

"The district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the EEOC had not satisfied its burden to justify its expanded investigation," Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. wrote for the unanimous panel.

No Fishing Here

The case arose after Kellie Guadiana, a phlebotomist at TriCore Reference Laboratories in Albuquerque, asked for accommodations due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy.

TriCore's human resources department decided she could not safely perform her job, and recommended she apply for other positions within the company. When she did not apply for a new position, the company terminated her.

Guadiana then filed charges with the EEOC for disability discrimination because of her rheumatoid arthritis, and for sex discrimination because of her pregnancy. Because TriCore told Guadiana apply for other positions rather than accommodate her, the EEOC sought to expand its investigation into possible company-wide discrimination.

The EEOC then subpoenaed "a complete list of TriCore employees, along with their personal identifying information, who had requested an accommodation for disability and a complete list of TriCore employees who had been pregnant while employed at TriCore."

TriCore petitioned the EEOC to revoke the subpoena, arguing it was unduly burdensome and a "fishing expedition."

Go Fish Again

A district court judge said the subpoena was too broad because it went beyond the concerns of Guadiana's case. The appellate judges agreed, but said their decision did not preclude the EEOC from formulating a request for information to overcome the court's concerns.

Reporting on the decision, The National Law Review said it was good news for employers.

"(T)he Tenth Circuit offered hope to employers within that Circuit facing overly broad information requests and/or subpoenas from the EEOC," the report said.

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