Court: EEOC may subpoena Watkins Motor Lines

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may proceed with its investigation of Watkins Motor Lines’ treatment of applicants with criminal records even though the person who complained to EEOC has settled and Watkins no longer exists, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Friday, Jan. 23.

After three murders and attempted murders involving employees, Watkins decided in June 2004 that it no longer would hire anyone who had been convicted of a violent crime. When the carrier rejected Lyndon Jackson’s application because of his criminal record, he complained to EEOC, which opened an investigation as to whether the policy had a disparate impact on minority applicants and, if so, was consistent with business necessity.

Several months before Watkins’ assets were sold to FedEx, Watkins and Jackson reached a settlement, one of the terms of which was that EEOC abandon its investigation. EEOC declined to do so, but a federal judge declined to enforce its subpoena. The appeals court also questioned EEOC’s decision to devote staff time and resources to investigating a short-lived practice by an entity that no longer operates, but it declared that “the Executive Branch rather than the Judicial Branch is entitled to decide where investigative resources should be devoted. A charging party’s change of mind does not diminish the agency’s authority to investigate on its own behalf.”

To view documents pertaining to the ruling, click here.