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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
QUANTUM FOODS, LLC,
Case No. 09 C 7741
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed an application
to enforce an administrative subpoena it issued to Quantum Foods, LLC (Quantum).
The EEOC issued the subpoena in the course of an investigation of a charge against
Quantum for national origin discrimination. Quantum objects to the document requests
in the subpoena, claiming that they are irrelevant to the investigation of the underlying
charge. Quantum also contends that the subpoena improperly requests confidential
information, its time frame is overly broad, and it is unduly burdensome. For the
following reasons, the Court enforces the subpoena in part and defers the matter in part
pending an evidentiary hearing.
Quantum operates a plant in Bolingbrook, Illinois where it processes meat
products, which it sells to stores, restaurants and consumers. Quantum also operates
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Quantum Culinary, which does food and menu consulting for chain and independent
restaurants. Quantum has a distribution center called Quantum Global Distribution
Center that serves as a warehouse, and it owns the Choice One Foods plant, which it
rents to an unrelated company. The majority of Quantum’s employees are employed at
the Bolingbrook plant, which has 1,106 employees. Quantum Culinary has 144
employees, Quantum Global Distribution Center employs fifty-nine, and Choice One
Foods has one employee.
On March 19, 2009, Miguel Figueroa filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that
during his employment as a butcher at Quantum’s Bolingbrook plant, he was
discriminated against based on his Hispanic national origin. He also alleged that
Quantum retaliated by discharging him when he complained about being subjected to
performance standards not required of his non-Hispanic co-workers. The EEOC
notified Quantum of the charge on March 23, 2009.
During the investigation of his charge, Figueroa informed the EEOC that
Quantum employs a large number of Polish employees in managerial and non-
managerial positions and that his own supervisors were Polish. Figueroa alleged that
Quantum treated non-Polish workers less favorably than Polish workers. He also
claimed that he was disciplined and terminated for failing to meet standards not
required of Polish employees. The EEOC reviewed the Bolingbrook plant’s Employer
Information Reports (EEO-1 forms) and found that it employs few African-Americans.
The reports also showed that African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented
at Quantum when compared to similar companies in the same geographic area.
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The EEOC sent Quantum a request for information on May 28, 2009. In the
request, the EEOC sought information concerning each facility owned or operated by
Quantum, its corporate structure, its hiring procedures, job descriptions of every
position at the facilities and qualifications for each position, and its record keeping
policies. The EEOC also requested a list of persons who had applied but were not
selected for positions with Quantum and a list of persons employed by the company
since January 1, 2006. For each of these individuals, the EEOC requested the name;
race or national origin; position or position applied for; date of application; date of
rejection or hire; and the name, race and national origin of the primary rejection or hiring
decision maker; copy of employment application and resume; last known home
address; and all known home telephone numbers. For those who applied but were not
hired, the EEOC also requested a copy of a driver’s license or comparable identification
(if applicable) and the reason for rejection. For those employed with the company, the
EEOC requested their current employment status and, if applicable, the date of
separation, reason for termination, and the name, race, and national origin of the
primary decision maker in the separation. On June 1, 2009, the EEOC sent Quantum a
second request for information. In this request, it sought copies of the company’s
employment advertisements and a list of its recruiting sources.
Quantum sent a response to the EEOC, dated June 12, 2009, in which it
objected to the scope of the subpoena but agreed to submit information that it
considered relevant to Figueroa’s charge. Specifically, Quantum refused to provide the
EEOC with information regarding its hiring, recruiting, and advertising policies and
procedures. It also objected to listing all employees hired at all of its facilities since
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January 1, 2006. Instead, Quantum provided the EEOC with the requested information
regarding other butchers similarly situated to Figueroa at its Bolingbrook location.
On June 22, 2009, the EEOC served a subpoena requesting the information
Quantum had objected to providing in response to the initial request. On June 26,
2009, Quantum submitted a petition to revoke or modify the subpoena, which the
EEOC denied on September 22, 2009. The EEOC’s decision instructed Quantum to
comply with the subpoena on or before October 12, 2009. Quantum sent the EEOC a
response on October 12, 2009. It contended that the information sought was beyond
the scope of the allegations in the charge and that retrieving the requested information
would be unduly burdensome.
On February 1, 2010, Quantum discussed the subpoena with the EEOC and
agreed to provide general information regarding all its facilities (i.e., location and
number of employees). It also agreed to provide general information regarding its hiring
practices and procedures, job descriptions of its production positions, a list of its
recruiting sources, and copies of its employment advertisements. Quantum continues
to object to the subpoena, however, to the extent that it seeks information concerning
job applicants who have been denied employment, current and past employees, the
names of the decision makers in the hiring, termination, or rejection process, and the
reasons for those decisions. It also contends that the subpoena is overly broad
because it seeks information concerning all Quantum facilities and because it is not
limited to the butcher position, the job Figueroa held while employed at Quantum.
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Enforceability of subpoena
The EEOC has jurisdiction to investigate the charges filed with its office alleging
unlawful employment practices. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). The EEOC is authorized to
issue subpoenas requiring the production of evidence. 29 C.F.R. § 1601.16(a). The
party served with the subpoena may seek its revocation or modification within five days
of service. Id. § 1601.16(b)(1). If the EEOC determines that it will uphold all or part of
the subpoena and the party served does not comply, the EEOC may institute
proceedings to enforce the subpoena. Id. § 1601.16(d).
Because administrative subpoena enforcement proceedings “are designed to be
summary in nature,” a court’s oversight role is limited. EEOC v. Tempel Steel Co., 814
F.2d 482, 485 (7th Cir. 1987); see also EEOC v. United Air Lines, Inc., 287 F.3d 643,
649 (7th Cir. 2002). “As long as the investigation is within the agency’s authority, the
subpoena is not too indefinite, and the information sought is reasonably relevant [to the
underlying charge], the district court must enforce an administrative subpoena.”
Tempel Steel Co., 814 F.2d at 485.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that, “[i]n connection with any
investigation of a charge[,]” the EEOC shall have access to any evidence that “is
relevant to the charge under investigation.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-8(a). Quantum
contends that the Court should not enforce the EEOC’s subpoena because it requests
information that is irrelevant to the underlying charge. Quantum argues that requests
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for information concerning its hiring and recruiting practices and procedures are
irrelevant to the charge because Figueroa does not allege that he was discriminated
against in the hiring process. Quantum also objects to the subpoena insofar as it seeks
information regarding all job positions; it seeks to limit the subpoena to information
concerning the position of butcher. In addition, because Figueroa worked at its
Bolingbrook facility, Quantum contends that requests regarding job positions and hiring
practices at its other locations are irrelevant to the charge.
Figueroa’s charge alleges that he suffered national origin discrimination while
working at Quantum. He also claims that Quantum terminated his employment in
retaliation for his complaints to higher-ups regarding the discrimination he experienced.
In United Air Lines, the Seventh Circuit cited cases that “shed[ ] significant light on the
meaning of ‘relevance’ in the subpoena context.” United Air Lines, 287 F.3d at 652.
Among them is the decision of the Sixth Circuit in Blue Bell Boots, Inc. v. EEOC, 418
F.2d 355 (6th Cir. 1969), which the Supreme Court also cited with approval in EEOC v.
Shell Oil Co., 466 U.S. 54, 68 n.20 (1984).
In Blue Bell Boots, seven African-American employees alleged that they were
discriminated against while employed and then discharged for reasons of race or color.
The Sixth Circuit stated that “racial discrimination is ‘by definition class discrimination’
and . . . that, in determining whether an employer practiced racial discrimination, the
existence of discrimination in job classifications or hiring situations other than those of
the complainants ‘may well justify an inference that the practices complained of . . .
were motivated by race factors.’” United Air Lines, 287 F.3d at 652 (citing Blue Bell
Boots, 418 F.2d at 358). The Seventh Circuit identified the Sixth Circuit’s determination
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in Blue Bell Boots as one “example of the permissible scope of the subpoena.” Id. at
653. Thus, the Seventh Circuit has acknowledged that in cases of wrongful
termination, the EEOC may investigate an employer’s job classification and hiring
Quantum contends that Blue Bell Boots is distinguishable from this case
because seven different complainants filed charges in that case alleging company-wide
discrimination against minorities. The Sixth Circuit, however, did not base its decision
on the fact that seven different complainants filed charges. Rather, the Court said that
it “consider[s] an employer’s ‘pattern of action’ relevant to the [EEOC’s] determination of
whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the employer has practiced racial
discrimination.” Blue Bell Boots, 418 F.2d at 358. Thus, an employer’s job
classification and hiring practices are relevant to a charge alleging race (or national
origin) discrimination and wrongful discharge on that basis. Furthermore, it is well
established that the EEOC may investigate employment practices “other than those
specifically charged.” United Air Lines, 287 F.3d at 653 (citing EEOC v. Roadway
Express, Inc., 750 F.2d 40, 43 (6th Cir. 1984)).
Quantum also claims that this case is similar to United Air Lines, in which the
Seventh Circuit determined that the EEOC’s subpoena was irrelevant to the underlying
charge. In United Air Lines, the EEOC sought information regarding all of the
company’s benefit programs. “The ‘policy’ at issue in the charge [, however, was
United Air Lines’] failure to pay into the French social security system.” Id. at 655. The
court found that “[n]othing in the charge suggest[ed] systemic discrimination on the
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basis of national origin or sex with respect to life, health, disability, and leave benefits.”
Id. The information regarding other benefit programs was irrelevant because the
underlying charge was specifically based on the company’s failure to pay into the
French social security system. By contrast, Figueroa’s charge alleges he suffered
discrimination while employed at Quantum and that he was wrongfully terminated on
the basis of national origin. The charge’s scope is thus broader than the charge at
issue in United Air Lines. See, e.g., EEOC v. Dial Corp., No. Civ. A. 99-3356, 2002 WL
1974072, at * 4 n. 4 (N.D. Ill. July 23, 2002). The Court concludes that the subpoena’s
requests for information regarding the company’s hiring and recruiting practices and
procedures, including for job positions other than that of butcher, are properly
Quantum also claims that the EEOC’s subpoena is irrelevant to the underlying
charge to the extent it seeks information concerning the job positions and hiring
practices of its facilities other than the Bolingbrook plant. The EEOC argues that the
scope of its subpoena is appropriate because the same employment application is used
across facilities and the same human resources personnel are responsible for all hiring
and recruiting. The other facilities, however, do not process or sell meat products.
Quantum’s vice president of human resources, Sean Spielman, has stated in an
affidavit that Quantum’s other facilities consist of a culinary business, a distribution
center, and a plant that is rented out to an unrelated entity. Spielman Decl. ¶ 2.
“[A]lthough the legitimate scope of the [EEOC’s] subpoena power includes
information that ‘might throw light’ upon the inquiry raised by the complaint, ‘the might’
is ‘an indication of a realistic expectation rather than an idle hope that something may
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be discovered.’” United Air Lines, 287 F.3d at 653 (quoting United States v. Harrington,
388 F.2d 520, 524 (2d Cir. 1968)). The Quantum entities are related to each other.
Figueroa’s charge and allegations, however, are specific to his experiences at the
Bolingbrook plant. This is not a case in which those responsible for the alleged
discrimination have responsibilities regarding other Quantum facilities. Compare,
EEOC v. Deb Shops, Inc., No. 94-5985, 1995 WL 579541, at *3-5 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28,
1995) (request for employment information regarding thirteen store district that
encompassed the store that had declined to hire the charging party as manager was
proper because all the stores shared the same district supervisor who made the final
hiring decision for management positions within the district). Other than the shared
employment application and human resources department, the EEOC has presented
no information that links Figueroa’s employment discrimination and wrongful termination
claims to persons with responsibilities in or practices applied at Quantum’s other
The Seventh Circuit has also advised that “in the context of an investigation of an
individual complaint, it might well be most natural to focus on that employing unit or
work unit from which came the decision of which the individual complainant complains;
within such a unit the EEOC might well need a wide spectrum of . . . data in order to
illuminate the general policies bearing on the complainant’s situation.” United Air Lines,
287 F.3d at 654. Figueroa’s employing unit in this case is Quantum’s Bolingbrook
plant. On the record before the Court, an investigation extending to Quantum’s other
facilities at this time would amount to a “fishing expedition.” Id. at 653 (“The
requirement of relevance, like the charge requirement itself, is designed to cabin the
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EEOC’s authority and prevent fishing expeditions.”) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). For these reasons, the Court declines to enforce the subpoena to the
extent it seeks information concerning facilities other than Quantum’s Bolingbrook plant.
Time frame of subpoena
Quantum claims that the subpoena is overly broad because it seeks information
regarding employment decisions made prior to May 27, 2008. Because Title VII
requires that a charge be filed within three hundred days of the alleged discriminatory
act to be timely, Quantum argues that the EEOC is not entitled to information regarding
hiring and termination decisions that occurred more than three hundred days before the
March 19, 2009 charge.
Though a charge must be filed within three hundred days of the discriminatory
conduct, the EEOC is not limited to information within that period to investigate the
charge. In fact, “the statute [does not] bar an employee from using . . . prior acts as
background evidence in support of a timely claim.” Nat. R.R. Passenger Corp. v.
Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002). Figueroa had been employed at Quantum for eight
years by the time he was terminated. It is not unreasonable for the EEOC to seek four
years of information to investigate the charge.
Quantum contends that the EEOC seeks information that is sensitive and
confidential. “[C]onfidentiality [, however,] is no excuse for noncompliance since Title
VII imposes criminal penalties for EEOC personnel who publicize information obtained
in the course of investigating charges of employment discrimination.” EEOC v. Bay
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Shipbuilding Corp., 668 F.2d 304, 312 (7th Cir. 1981); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-
5(b) & 2000e-8(e). Although Quantum contends that the protections Title VII offers are
insufficient, the Supreme Court has determined that courts must “stand behind the
breakwater Congress has established: unless specifically provided otherwise in the
statute, the EEOC may obtain ‘relevant’ evidence. Congress has made the choice. If it
dislikes the result, it of course may revise the statute.” Univ. of Pa. v. EEOC, 493 U.S.
182, 194 (1990). Moreover, the EEOC has stated that it will not seek the contact
information of the company’s managerial or supervisory employees. Thus, Quantum
may not decline to comply with the subpoena based on its claims of confidentiality.
A Court may decline to enforce a valid subpoena if the request is unduly
burdensome. United Air Lines, 287 F.3d at 655. A subpoena is excessively
burdensome if “compliance would threaten the normal operation of its business.”
EEOC v. Quad/Graphics, Inc., 63 F.3d 642, 648 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Bay Shipbuilding
Corp., 668 F.2d at 313). Quantum objects to the subpoena because it requests
information identifying all current and former employees and those who applied for
employment and were not hired since January 1, 2006. It also objects to providing
information concerning the decision makers and the reasons for hiring and firing
decisions because it claims this information is not readily available. Quantum supports
its objection with an affidavit by Spielman, who would have primary responsibility for
compiling the information sought by the subpoena.
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Spielman states that since January 1, 2006, Quantum has employed more than
2,600 employees and has terminated approximately 1,304 employees. Each
employee’s file contains numerous documents compiled during employment.
Furthermore, the personnel files of employees terminated prior to January 2, 2009 are
stored in a warehouse, which means that a staff member must work with a forklift
operator to locate and retrieve the boxes. Spielman estimates that it would take his
staff approximately 871 hours to “review, compile, copy and produce the documents
requested.” Spielman Decl. ¶ 24.
Spielman also states that Quantum no longer has applications predating January
1, 2008. Since January 1, 2008, Quantum has received more than 1,500 applications
for employment for more than thirty separate positions. Spielman estimates that it
would take his staff approximately 128 hours to “review, compile, copy and produce the
documents requested” relating to employment applicants. Id. ¶ 25.
Spielman further states that the company does not maintain a database that
includes the name, race and national origin of each applicant’s or terminated
employee’s decision maker and the reason for the decision. His time estimates
therefore do not include the time it would take to interview each decision maker
involved in the hiring and firing process since January 1, 2006. The estimates,
Spielman also states, likewise do not include the time it would take to redact
employees’ Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.
In total, Spielman estimates that it would take his department around 1,000
hours to produce the files it has that are responsive to the EECO’s request. It is
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unclear whether Spielman’s time estimates are based on the time it will take to produce
files of applicants and employees company-wide. This estimate may no longer be
accurate in light of the Court’s decision to enforce the subpoena only with respect to the
Bolingbrook plant. Nonetheless, the Bolingbrook plant employs a significant majority of
the workers for the Quantum-related entities. Thus, to the extent Spielman would alter
his time estimates based on this modification, it is unlikely that he would change them
The EEOC has agreed to modify its subpoena to help ease Quantum’s burden.
Specifically, it will not insist that Quantum provide information of those who applied prior
to January 1, 2008, applicants’ driver’s licenses, the identity of persons who made the
hiring decisions, or the reasons for the decisions. Instead, it asks that Quantum identify
by name, race and national origin those responsible for making hiring decisions. The
EEOC also agrees not to seek the reason for an employee’s separation or the name,
race, and national origin of the decision maker regarding each separation.
In light of these modifications, the EEOC now requests the following information
regarding Quantum applicants since January 1, 2008: name, race, national origin,
position applied for, name of hiring source, application and resume, last known home
address, and all known home telephone numbers. The EEOC states that this
information is contained in Quantum’s employee applications and that copies of those
applications are sufficient to comply with its request. Spielman estimated that it would
take his staff 128 hours to retrieve the files from storage and produce the relevant
documents to the EEOC. Although Spielman may have based his estimate on the
EEOC’s original company-wide request, a commitment of 128 hours of time for
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photocopying is not unduly burdensome. Because the EEOC is entitled to review
documents relevant to the underlying charge, Quantum must produce these
documents. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-8(a).
The EEOC continues to seek information concerning Quantum employees from
January 1, 2006 through the present, specifically, each individual’s: name, race and
national origin, position, date of hire, current employment status, date of separation (if
applicable), reason for separation (if applicable), last known home address, and all
known home telephone numbers. As indicated earlier, Spielman estimated that it would
take 871 hours to review, copy and produce the documents requested company-wide;
the amount need for Bolingbrook-related documents is probably a bit less.
The EEOC contends that Spielman has grossly overestimated the amount of
time it will take his staff to comply with the request. Prior to filing this action, the EEOC
received a letter from Quantum stating that “identifying the information requested by the
EEOC’s subpoena will take one (1) employee at least one whole week. Retrieving and
reviewing the information requested by the EEOC’s subpoena will take one (1)
employee at least one additional whole week.” Baran Decl. ¶ 4(a), Ex. 9.
Quantum contends that the original estimate was inaccurate because it “failed to
take into account the time it would actually take for an employee to review each file, pull
The EEOC also requests the driver’s licenses or identification documents of
applicants who have not identified their race and national origin on their employment
application. Spielman stated that copies of driver’s licenses are kept with that person’s
employment eligibility verification form (I-9 form). Since these forms are typically filled
out only after an applicant has been hired, it is unclear whether Quantum has copies of
each applicant’s driver’s license. The EEOC requests such identification documents,
however, “if available.” The request therefore allows for the possibility that copies of
driver’s licenses and similar documents are unavailable.
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the requested information, and compile the responsive information.” Resp. Br. at 13
n.4. The EEOC argues that the Court should not accept Quantum’s explanation,
because in its earlier letter, Quantum stated that it took into account the amount of time
it would take to locate, retrieve and review the information requested. It also argues
that Quantum’s undue burden argument lacks credence because the company does
not indicate whether it has any of the information requested in a computer database.
The parties’ arguments on the undue burden issue regarding the requests
relating to Quantum employees from 2006 through the present leave the Court
somewhat at sea. If Quantum’s 871-hour estimate is reasonably accurate, then the
subpoena would indeed pose an undue burden given the fact that the investigation
involves a claim of discrimination by a single employee. But as indicated, Quantum’s
earlier letter to the EEOC casts some doubt on the accuracy of Spielman’s later
estimate. The Court believes that a brief evidentiary hearing will be required to resolve
the undue burden issue – unless, of course, the parties are able to work out a narrower,
and thus less burdensome, scope.
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants in part the EEOC’s motion to
enforce its subpoena [docket no. 4] The case is set for a status hearing on May 10,
2010 at 9:30 a.m. for the purpose of setting a date for the evidentiary hearing described
above. The Court intends to set the hearing for a date in early June.
Date: April 26, 2010
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY
United States District Judge