When investigating a charge of discrimination, the EEOC has the authority to issue administrative subpoenas requiring employers to produce relevant information. This power, however, is rarely used because most employers voluntarily comply with the EEOC’s reasonable requests for information.
In San Antonio, a law firm respondent is testing the EEOC’s powers to require information be produced via administrative subpoena. In EEOC v. Malaise law firm, the EEOC is seeking the names and addresses of employees working for the law firm as potential witnesses. The request was made in connection with the Commission’s investigation of a claim of sexual harassment. The firm responded that this information was not relevant, constituted a fishing expedition, and invaded the privacy rights of nonparties The EEOC persisted in its efforts to obtain the information and ultimately issued an administrative subpoena to the firm. The law firm filed objections to the subpoena which the EEOC overruled (Yes, the EEOC gets to make the rulings on objections made to its subpoenas). The law firm still failed to comply with the subpoena and the EEOC filed a Petition to Enforce the subpoena in the U.S. District Court.
The interesting part about the fact the EEOC had to go to court to get this information is that the Commission’s court filing shows some insight into how it goes about investigating charges of discrimination. You can read the EEOC’s Petition to Enforce here and the affidavit in support of the petition (with all of the fun-to-read exhibits containing the charge and letters between the firm and EEOC) here.