McLane Co. v. EEOC


Should a circuit court show deference to a district court’s decision to quash or enforce an EEOC subpoena?

When a federal district court makes a determination regarding whether to quash or enforce a subpoena, that decision is subject to appeal at the circuit court level. A circuit court can review a district court’s decision either deferentially or de novo. If a circuit court engages in deferential review, it will only overturn a district court’s decision if it determines that the district court abused its discretion in the matter. On the other hand, if a circuit court engages in de novo review, it will assess the factual evidence of the case and make a legal determination without regard for the findings by the court below. McLane Company, Inc. argues that a circuit court hearing an appeal from a district court’s decision to quash an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) subpoena should review the decision below deferentially. The EEOC argues, however, that a circuit court in that situation should instead review the decision de novo. The outcome of this case will impact the course of future EEOC litigation. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

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.

In 2007, Damiana Ochoa took maternity leave from her job at McLane Company, Inc. (“McLane”). EEOC v. McLane Co., No. 13-15126, at 4 (9th Cir. Oct. 27, 2015). Upon attempting to return to work, McLane informed Ochoa that she was required to pass the physical capability strength test.

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