1. Whether a district court’s decision to quash or enforce an EEOC subpoena should be reviewed de novo, which only the Ninth Circuit does, or should be reviewed deferentially, which eight other circuits do, consistent with this Court’s precedents concerning the choice of standards of review.
2. Whether the Ninth Circuit’s decision to enforce an EEOC subpoena, depending upon a notion of relevance so broad that it effectively abrogates statutory limits on the EEOC’s investigative powers, conflicts with EEOC v. Shell Oil, 466 U.S. 54 (1984) and the holdings of at least three other circuits.
The U.S. Chamber urged the Supreme Court to defer to trial judges when reviewing a decision not to enforce an EEOC subpoena. The brief urged the Court to hold that, as such decisions turn heavily on factual determinations, the correct standard of review is clear error, not de novo. The brief explained that a deferential standard of review is most efficient in the context of EEOC subpoena enforcement actions because district courts are closest to the factual and evidentiary issues at play and can readily appreciate the full weight of the evidence through hearings, witness testimony, and direct access to the parties. Conversely, a de novo standard encourages appeals and discourages informal resolution of non-merits issues, dragging out an already lengthy EEOC investigation process at the expense of Title VII’s aims of prompt investigation and resolution of discrimination claims.
This case has not been decided on the merits.