State of Texas vs. the EEOC: Is Timing Everything?
January 31, 2014
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that the state of Texas needs to work on its timing. The agency has filed a motion to dismiss in the lawsuit that Texas brought against the EEOC late last year, claiming that the state has no right to sue and that the timing of the claims are premature. For those of you just tuning in, the entire State of Texas sued the EEOC last November, slamming the agency’s guidance on the use of criminal background checks. The case further ignited the firestorm of controversy that has surrounded the EEOC’s guidance since it was first issued in April of 2012.
The Texas Lawsuit
The state of Texas is not alone in its objection to the guidance. The agency has been aggressively targeting employers for disparate impact discrimination, and it recently filed high profile class actions against BMW and Dollar General Stores citing the guidance. Employers and courts have been critical of the agencies’ tactics, which have basically been sue first and sort it out later. In July of last year, nine states’ Attorneys General sent a complaint letter to the EEOC, calling their tactics “misguided and a quintessential example of gross federal overreach.”
The Texas suit takes the EEOC to task for stepping on the state’s toes and creating direct conflict with Texas laws that mandate criminal background checks. Both state agencies and private employers in Texas are prohibited from hiring convicted felons or certain types of ex-offenders for certain jobs—namely, jobs that require high levels of security and public trust. The state says that the EEOC’s guidance is harmful and could endanger public safety:
“If state agencies choose to comply with the EEOC’s interpretation, they not only violate state law, but also must begin evaluating and hiring felons to serve in law enforcement, teach in local elementary schools, nurse veterans and the disabled, counsel juvenile detainees, and coach little league.”
The Motion to Dismiss
In its Motion to Dismiss, the EEOC says that Texas got it all wrong. The brief cites 47 cases and starts out with six pages of background information–a sweeping tutorial on the agency’s long standing disdain for the use of criminal background information and disparate impact theory.
When it finally gets to the argument, there are three main points. The first argument is that the guidance is only “guidance.” As such, it has no legal effect. This is one of the standard responses that we hear from the EEOC—a response that conveniently creates an endless loop of circular logic, deflecting criticism by denying that it has any real authority. The agency lacks authority to issue substantive rules, therefore it has no ability to bind the plaintiff to any legal obligation. Tell that to Dollar General and BMW.
The second argument follows along the same line of reasoning—the state has no standing to sue, because it has suffered no real injury. The EEOC is saying the Texas’ claims are speculative, and there is no actual harm. Similarly, the third argument is ripeness–there has been no final agency action, and thus the claims are not ripe for litigation.
Procedurally, the EEOC is trying to stop this case dead in its tracks. The idea behind a motion to dismiss is that the claims made by the plaintiff are so lacking in merit that no answer is needed. The strategy here is to get the judge to agree that there is no reason to bother drafting an answer. There is a strong presumption against granting this type of motion, but at this point, it’s all up to the judge. Stay tuned on this one—we’ll keep you posted.
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