United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
January 16, 2004.
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Petitioner, RALPHS GROCERY COMPANY, Respondent
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELAINE E. BUCKLO, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Doris Martinez was employed by respondent Ralphs Grocery Company
("Ralphs") from December 2002 until February 2003. When Ms. Martinez was
hired, she signed an employment agreement that contained an arbitration
agreement for employer-employee disputes. On February 22, 2003, Ms.
Martinez. was terminated. On February 25, Ms. Martinez filed a charge of
discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"), a
charge that was "dual-filed" with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission ("EEOC").*fn1 Ralphs filed a petition to compel arbitration
and stay administrative proceedings with the IDHR in this court, but the
petition was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Ralphs then filed a
similar petition in the Circuit Court of Cook County ("State Court"). The
EEOC now moves for an preliminary injunction against Ralphs' petition in
state court. I grant that motion.
A preliminary injunction "is an extraordinary remedy that is only
granted where there is a clear showing of need." Cooper v.
Salazar, 196 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 1999). Five factors figure into
the determination of whether a preliminary injunction should be granted.
Id. As a threshold matter, the petitioner must show (1) a
likelihood of success on the merits, (2) irreparable harm if the
preliminary injunction is denied, and (3) the inadequacy of any remedy at
law. I then balance (4) the harm to petitioner if the preliminary
injunction were wrongfully denied against the harm to the respondent if
the injunction were wrongfully granted, and (5) the impact on persons not
directly concerned in the dispute. Id.; see also Platinum Home
Mortgage Corp. v. Platinum Fin. Group, Inc., 149 F.3d 722, 726 (7th
Cir. 1998). Ralphs argues that the EEOC has not made a showing of likely
success or of irreparable harm nor that the public interest will not be
harmed if I do not grant the injunction. Ralphs also argues that it will
be irreparably harmed if I do grant the injunction.
Ralphs' State Court petition seeks to enjoin the IDHR from
investigating Ms. Martinez's claim of discrimination. As a threshold
matter, the EEOC must show some likelihood of success on the merits. "The
threshold for this showing is low." Cooper, 196 F.3d at 813. The
EEOC's statutory authority to investigate charges of discrimination is
not overcome by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et
seq., or by an employer-employee arbitration
agreement. EEOC v. Waffle House, Inc., 534 U.S. 279, 294
(2002). The Supreme Court expressed concern that the EEOC be able to
vindicate the public interest against discrimination in employment.
Id. at 295-296. Not only can the EEOC investigate a charge, it
can bring an action either for injunctive or "victim-specific" relief
against the employer. Id.
In the present case, the IDHR is acting as the agent for the EEOC. Ms.
Martinez's charge was "dual-filed," meaning that while she physically
filled out the necessary paperwork at the IDHR offices, the charge served
to notify both the IDHR and the EEOC of her complaint. According to the
work-sharing agreement between the IDHR and the EEOC, whichever agency
initially receives the charge is the one that takes the lead on
investigating it. In this case, that agency is the IDHR. Ralphs argues
that the nature of the IDHR, a state rather than federal, agency, should
preclude it from proceeding with its investigation in the face of the
arbitration agreement. However, the EEOC has been specifically authorized
by Congress to use state agencies, such as the IDHR, to investigate
charges of discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(4)(g)(1); see also
Alerquin v. General Fire Extinguisher Corp., No. 94-C-5991, 1995 WL
493446, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 15, 1995)(EEOC and IDHR are the same for
purposes of advancing Title VII goals). The rationale expressed in
Waffle House is not diminished because the EEOC is using an
statutorily-authorized agent for its investigation rather
than handling the investigation itself. The EEOC has shown a
"better than negligible" chance that the rationale in Waffle
House would be extended to cover state agencies like the IDHR when
working in tandem with the EEOC. Cooper, 196 F.3d at 813.
The EEOC also must show that it will suffer irreparable harm if the
injunction is not granted, and that it has no adequate remedy at law. The
EEOC argues that if the injunction is not granted, it will be unable to
proceed with the investigation and possible prosecution of Ms. Martinez's
charge. Such a restriction on the EEOC's statutory duties would have a
chilling effect on other employees who might seek to file a charge of
discrimination. Ralphs argues that even if the IDHR is enjoined from
proceeding with its investigation, the EEOC can proceed on its own. This
argument ignores the fact that the IDHR is authorized to act as an agent
for the EEOC and that Congress has given the EEOC, not Ralphs, the
authority to decide how to conduct an investigation of a charge of
discrimination. See Waffle House, 534 U.S. at 291-292 (EEOC can
determine allocation of resources to charges). The EEOC has made its
threshold showing of irreparable harm and of no adequate remedy at law.
As the EEOC has made its threshold showings, I must consider any
irreparable harm to Ralphs if the injunction is granted, as well as the
effect of an injunction on the public interest. Ralphs argues that if the
investigation is allowed to proceed, Ralphs will
lose the ability to resolve the issues in its chosen forum
arbitration. However, as stated above, the FAA does not trump the EEOC' s
statutory authority to investigate and, if it chooses, prosecute charges
of discrimination. Waffle House, 534 U.S. at 294. While Ms.
Martinez may be limited to arbitration to resolve her dispute with
Ralphs, the EEOC may, with the assistance of the IDHR, bring its own
action against Ralphs. Id. at 296.
Finally, the public interest weighs heavily in favor of granting this
injunction. The EEOC is statutorily authorized to investigate charges of
discrimination on the part of our nation's employers. Ralphs' State
Court petition, if granted, would have a serious chilling effect on the
many employees who currently work under an arbitration agreement; those
employees have a statutory right to file a charge with the EEOC or its
sister state agencies. If granted, the injunction would have the effect
of making those filings meaningless, as the agencies would be powerless
to do anything about them. The balance of harms weighs in favor of the
EEOC, and I grant its motion for a preliminary injunction.