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Job records ordered for ‘literacy’ discrimination case

The EEOC can obtain five years’ worth of job assignment records from a company that deploys as many as 45,000 temporary workers on a weekly basis, in a case alleging the company illegally discriminated when it refused to reassign a temporary worker who could not read and write English.

When the agency took up the complaint of Maryland resident Kevin Morrison, who was born in Jamaica, a Maryland federal district court refused to enforce the agency’s subpoena, according to a decision released yesterday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The agency wanted “documents or a data compilation” for “all non-administrative position assignments” made by respondent Randstad’s 13 offices in Maryland, from 2005 through 2009, including position title, client name and date of assignment.

The EEOC also requested copies of job orders and job descriptions for each position, copies of all applications for each position and a statement for each position on whether reading and writing was required for the job. Randstad described the request as “unduly burdensome,” although it appeared to anticipate in-house preparation of the documents at a labor cost of less than $20,000, a relatively modest expense by current standards.

Morrison initially claimed national origin discrimination under Title VII, but later amended his charge to allege disability discrimination because a learning disability hindered his ability to read and write.

Under 4th Circuit case law, the commission has a broad mandate to go after “virtually any material that might cast light on the allegations against the employer,” said Judge Andre M. Davis. Here, the district court’s “application of an unduly strict standard of relevance amounted to legal error.”

The district court was skeptical about the causal link between Morrison’s Jamaican origin and his illiteracy, noting that English is the spoken language of Jamaica, even if some people speak Patois. But the appellate panel said the district court ruling had “crossed the line into an assessment of the merits of Morrison’s claim.” And the affidavit from Randstad’s director of IT applications was inadequate to prove an undue burden, the panel said in its 31-page published opinion in EEOC v. Randstad.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said the subpoena covered four years of documents.

–Deborah Elkins

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