Supreme Court Establishes Standard for Appellate Review of A District Court’s Enforcement of EEOC Subpoena


A federal district court’s decision either to enforce or to quash a subpoena issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is reviewed by an appellate court under an abuse of discretion standard, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In McLane Co., Inc. v. EEOC, the Supreme Court noted that the subpoena authority granted the EEOC by Title VII is the same authority granted the National Labor Relations Board by the National Labor Relations Act. Appellate courts have consistently held that their review of a district court’s decision regarding the enforceability of an NLRB subpoena is subject to an abuse of discretion standard – in other words, the district court’s decision should be given deference unless the district court has committed a clear error of judgment based on the facts and circumstances – rather than a de novo standard, in which the appellate court can make its own decision based on the facts and circumstances. The Supreme Court found that this same abuse of discretion standard should apply to EEOC subpoenas.

This decision makes it harder for employers to have a district court order enforcing an EEOC subpoena overturned on appellate review.