Beware EEOC’s Broad Power: Protect Your Trade Secrets


With EEOC complaints on the rise, employers should take note of a recent opinion reminding them that the EEOC may access “virtually any material that might cast light on the allegations against the employer.”

The EEOC is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and it is tasked with investigating employee charges of discrimination. When reviewing the EEOC’s request for information (and more here) to conduct an investigation, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently noted that it will “defer to an agency’s own appraisal of what is relevant so long as it is not obviously wrong.” So, although the court will not allow the EEOC to discover everything, the Court has held that whether the material requested is relevant, the relevancy requirement is “not especially constraining.”

The recent case at issue is EEOC v. Randstad, decided July 18, 2012, by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The employer, Randstad, had objected to the scope of the EEOC’s discovery request, and won the first round of arguments that the request was too broad. The appeals court reversed, allowing the broad discovery request.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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