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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Maritime Autowash, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

April 25, 2016

U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
MARITIME AUTOWASH, INC., Respondent - Appellee.

Argued: March 24, 2016

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. George L. Russell, III, District Judge. (1:15-cv-00869-GLR)

ARGUED:

Paula Rene' Bruner, U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

John S. Vander Woude, ECCLESTON AND WOLF, PC, Hanover, Maryland, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

P. David Lopez, General Counsel, Jennifer S. Goldstein, Associate General Counsel, Lorraine C. Davis, Assistant General Counsel, U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Before WILKINSON and NIEMEYER, Circuit Judges, and David C. NORTON, United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina, sitting by designation.

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

Appellee Maritime Autowash, Inc. employed Elmer Escalante, an undocumented alien, at one of its two full-service carwashes. Escalante filed a complaint against Maritime with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As part of its investigation, the EEOC issued a subpoena seeking information from Maritime related to Escalante's charges, which the employer opposed. The district court denied the EEOC's application for subpoena enforcement.

This matter thus arrives on appeal at a very early stage. The only issue before us is judicial enforcement of the EEOC's subpoena. We cannot yet know whether the agency's investigation will uncover misconduct by the employer or ever ripen into a lawsuit. Nor can we assess what causes of action or remedies might lie down the road. All that the district court was called upon to decide was whether the EEOC had authority to investigate Escalante's charges. We think the trial court erred in declining to authorize that very preliminary step.

I.

In May 2012, Maritime hired Elmer Escalante as a vacuumer at its carwash in Edgewater, Maryland. At the time, Escalante lacked authorization to work in the United States. Maritime and Escalante offer contrasting narratives of his hiring and termination. According to the employer, Escalante was originally hired under the name Angel Erazo. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) informed Maritime in May 2013 after inspecting its workplaces that Erazo had no lawful work authorization. Maritime contends it terminated "Angel Erazo" and hired the same person under the name "Elmer Escalante" that same month.

For his part, Escalante claims that he was hired in May 2012 under his legal name, not Angel Erazo. The head manager told him on his second day at work that the name Elmer Escalante did not match his social security number. The manager allegedly advised Escalante to obtain new documents bearing a different name, which Escalante did. He went by Angel Erazo for the following year. Escalante describes how, following an inspection by DHS in May 2013, Maritime's owner and its general manager met with all the Hispanic employees. They offered those without proper work authorization $150 each, styled as a one-time bonus, to help them acquire new documentation with new names. Escalante obtained a different social security number corresponding to "Elmer Escalante." Maritime then rehired him and the other Hispanic employees with their new papers.

On July 27, 2013, Escalante and other Hispanic employees complained to Maritime of unequal treatment and discrimination targeting Hispanics. All of them were terminated the day they raised the complaint. Escalante then filed charges with the EEOC on February 6, 2014 for discrimination on the basis of national origin and retaliation as prohibited under Title VII. The time period identified in his complaint was May 2012 to July 2013. The complaint details the unequal employment conditions facing Hispanic employees at Maritime, including longer working hours, shorter breaks, lack of proper equipment, additional duties, and lower wages. ...


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