Staffing Firm Aerotek Must Share Client Names With EEOC

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By Lisa Nagele-Piazza

March 4 — Staffing firm Aerotek Inc. can’t prevent the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from reviewing certain client information in an investigation of possible age-related employment discrimination practices, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled.

During an initial review of information obtained from Aerotek’s database, the EEOC discovered hundreds of discriminatory job requests made by clients at 62 of the staffing firm’s 286 facilities. Aerotek refused to comply with the agency’s additional subpoena seeking the names of its clients at those facilities and the workers placed with those clients.

A district court enforced the subpoena, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed the order March 4. The inquiry was within the EEOC’s authority and the information sought was “clearly relevant” to the age discrimination investigation, the appeals court held.

Although Aerotek later supplied all the requested information, the appeals court said the issue isn't moot because the court could order the EEOC to return the information or prevent the agency from contacting certain clients.

This case illustrates the broad authority the EEOC has to investigate potentially discriminatory employment practices.

Investigation Revealed Discriminatory Requests

Aerotek is a staffing firm that supplies temporary contract workers to its clients. During an investigation of the firm's compliance with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the EEOC discovered hundreds of potentially discriminatory job requests from clients at 62 of Aerotek's locations, according to the court.

One client request stated that candidates in their forties and fifties wouldn't fit its culture and another asked for young and energetic “guys,” the court noted.

After reviewing this initial information, the EEOC ultimately issued a subpoena seeking the names of clients at the 62 facilities for which potentially discriminatory requests were identified. The agency also sought the names and contact information of the workers assigned to those clients.

Aerotek refused, and the district court ordered the firm to comply.

Thereafter, Aerotek provided the workers' names and contact information, but not the client names, and it appealed the district court's order.

At oral argument before the appeals court, Aerotek revealed that it ultimately did supply the client names, but it wanted the EEOC to return the information.

Client Names Relevant to Investigation

On appeal, Aerotek argued that the EEOC was on a fishing expedition and that the majority of the 22,000 relevant clients weren't related to the potentially discriminatory job requests.

But the Seventh Circuit said the district court didn't abuse its discretion by enforcing the subpoena.

The EEOC has broad authority to investigate matters to determine whether a violation has occurred, the court said. Furthermore, the agency is permitted to “investigate merely on suspicion that the law is being violated, or even just because it wants assurance that it is not,” the court said.

The EEOC said it wanted to investigate whether Aerotek's clients made discriminatory requests that weren't included in the firm's database. The agency wouldn't be able to do this if Aerotek didn't reveal its clients' names, the court said.

“The identification of the clients will allow the EEOC to investigate discriminatory activity that has not been recorded in the database, information that is clearly relevant to its investigation,” the appeals court held.

Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Michael S. Kanne and David F. Hamilton .

EEOC attorneys Aaron R. DeCamp and Susan L.P. Starr represented the agency. Thomas F. Hurka of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Chicago and Andrew L. Scroggins of Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago, represented Aerotek.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Nagele-Piazza in Washington at lnagele@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com