The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit examined the question in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. TriCore Reference Laboratories.
Kellie Guadiana (“Guadiana”) worked for TriCore Reference Laboratories (“TriCore”) as a phlebotomist. She asked for accommodations because she had rheumatoid arthritis, made worse by the fact that she was pregnant. TriCore Human Resources (“HR”) determined Guidiana was unable to perform her job as a phlebotomist. Instead of giving her accommodations, it asked her to apply for another job in TriCore. She did not, and TriCore fired her.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) investigates charges of discrimination and enforces both Title VII, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on sex, including pregnancy, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their disability and requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to qualified individuals.
Ms. Guadiana filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that TriCore discriminated against her due to her disability, rheumatoid arthritis, and sex (pregnancy). TriCore told the EEOC that it had provided reasonable accommodations by offering her the chance to apply for a new position within the company. The EEOC said TriCore was in violation of the ADA—it was required to reassign Guadiana, not just let her apply elsewhere.
During the investigation, the EEOC began to think TriCore had a policy of not accommodating people as required by the ADA. The EEOC notified TriCore of the expanded investigation, and asked for a list of employees who had requested an accommodation for disability and of employees who had been pregnant while at TriCore and whether they asked for or were given accommodations. TriCore did not comply. The EEOC subpoenaed the information. When TriCore refused to comply, the EEOC asked the US District Court for the District of New Mexico for help make TriCore comply with the subpoena. The Court did not help the EEOC. The EEOC appealed.
The EEOC claimed the Court erred in denying it help in enforcing the subpoena. EEOC is empowered to investigate charges of discrimination. In a case like this—the EEOC has the burden to show the importance of the information sought in a subpoena.
On appeal, the court agreed with the ruling that the EEOC’s reasons for expanding the investigation were hard to pin down. Because the EEOC did not meet the necessary burden of showing why the information it was looking for was important, the Court had not abused its discretion when it denied help enforcing the subpoena. Ruling affirmed.
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