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Tenth Circuit Denies Enforcement of EEOC Subpoena

Tennessee Federal District Court Update

Tenth Circuit Denies Enforcement of EEOC Subpoena

In EEOC v. TriCore Reference Laboratories, No. 16-2053 (10th Cir., Feb. 27, 2017), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied enforcement of the EEOC’s request for an administrative subpoena. This case arose out of a charge of disability and pregnancy discrimination brought by Kelli Guadiana against her employer, TriCore Reference Laboratories, where she worked as a phlebotomist. Beginning in 2011, Guadiana had requested accommodations to her work schedule and responsibilities due to her rheumatoid arthritis, which she asserted was exacerbated by her pregnancy. After reviewing Guadiana’s doctors’ notes and meeting with her several times, TriCore determined that Guadiana could not safely perform the functions of her position and offered her the opportunity to apply for vacant positions in the company for which she was qualified. After she failed to make any application, TriCore terminated Guadiana’s employment.

In response to Guidiana’s charge of discrimination, TriCore explained to the EEOC that it had provided Guadiana a reasonable accommodation by offering her the opportunity to apply for other positions, but the EEOC viewed the response as suggesting a companywide policy or practice of refusing to provide reassignment as a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the ADA. Accordingly, the EEOC informed TriCore that it was expanding the scope of its investigation to include the failure to accommodate persons with disabilities and/or failure to accommodate women with disabilities due to pregnancy. The EEOC thus requested a complete list of TriCore employees who had requested an accommodation for disability (“the disability request”); and a complete list of TriCore employees who had been pregnant while employed by TriCore and whether they sought or were granted any accommodation (“the pregnancy request”). After TriCore refused to comply, the EEOC issued the subpoena and petitioned the district court, which denied enforcement.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed with respect to both requests, finding that the EEOC had not met the requisite standard of relevance of the requested information. The EEOC argued that the disability request was relevant to investigating whether TriCore had a pattern or practice of disability discrimination based on its response to the charge. However, the court ruled that the underlying charge did not mention any other charging party or anything else that might suggest an additional charge that TriCore had a pattern or practice of discrimination. The court further noted that TriCore’s position said nothing to suggest that its actions were based on a policy or practice of acting similarly when responding to requests for accommodation.

With respect to the pregnancy request, the EEOC argued that this request was relevant to investigating comparator evidence that TriCore treated Guadiana less favorably than similarly situated employees. However, the court held that the EEOC’s request was overbroad because it had no apparent connection to Guidiana’s charge. Specifically, the court held that the pregnancy request sought information about other pregnant employees who never sought an accommodation, and therefore did not constitute relevant comparator evidence.  The court thus affirmed the district court’s denial of enforcement of the subpoena.

 

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