Coal operator Mach Mining to get its day at U.S. Supreme Court

Mach Mining LLC, the contract operator for a longwall-equipped coal mine in Illinois, has asked a U.S. District Court to stay discovery in a 2011 employment discrimination lawsuit while a related matter is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Briefing this case to the Supreme Court and concurrently responding and defending against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) “unyielding discovery” will prove extremely prejudicial to Mach, the company argued, especially given the discovery may ultimately be an unnecessary expense to Mach and the EEOC has demonstrated throughout the discovery process that it will repeatedly request discovery hearings and file motion after motion anytime a ruling is not in its favor.

This case, over alleged gender discrimination in coal mine hiring, is pending at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

“Judicial economy favors staying this matter because the Supreme Court’s decision will streamline the discovery process by defining the scope of discovery and thus minimizing discovery disputes between the parties,” said the July 7 stay request from the company. “And without a stay, Mach will be prejudicially forced to simultaneously pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court – an appeal EEOC agreed was warranted – and volley EEOC’s onerous discovery demands.”

Since the EEOC filed this lawsuit in September2011, it has served extensive written discovery in this matter, including multiple sets of interrogatories and requests for production of documents, Mach Mining argued. “All the while, EEOC has refused to engage in settlement negotiations because of its stated, unjustified belief that Mach sees this as a one claimant case. To the contrary, Mach simply desires to properly define the class and accurately ascertain damages. To that end, Mach has requested related information from EEOC, which EEOC objected to providing based on its assertion that, despite decades of precedent unanimously holding otherwise, its own conciliation efforts are entirely immune from both discovery and judicial review.”

In December 2013, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that EEOC’s pre-lawsuit conciliation efforts were immune from judicial review. Thereafter, Mach filed its petition for a Writ of Certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 30, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Said the EEOC in its July 15 brief arguing for continued discovery in the U.S. District Court: “EEOC’s Complaint in this case alleges that Mach Mining’s failure to hire even a single woman for a coal production position violates Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination. The heart of this case thus involves Mach’s hiring of mining employees, including the Company’s hiring criteria, the personnel responsible for such hiring, and the Company’s anti-discrimination policies and training. The issue on which the Court granted certiorari – whether EEOC’s pre-suit conciliation efforts are subject to judicial review as an affirmative defense – simply will not affect the scope of discovery on many key aspects of this case, including the critical question of Mach’s hiring process. Granting Mach’s request for a total stay of all discovery would slow the ultimate resolution of this case and allow evidence that could be helpful to the EEOC to grow stale – and would serve little purpose. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules much of the same discovery will have to be done. EEOC agrees that the agency will not conduct discovery regarding conciliation while the cert petition is pending.”

Mach Mining is a contract operator for coal operator Chris Cline’s Foresight Energy LP (NYSE: FELP), which in June went public in an IPO. Said a June 9 prospectus from Foresight Energy about its operation that uses Mach Mining: “Williamson Energy, LLC has a contract mining arrangement with Mach, an affiliated mining contractor. Mach is paid on a cost-plus basis for coal that is produced and processed from Williamson’s mine. As of March 31, 2014, Mach employed 173 workers at Williamson, 130 of which worked underground. Mach maintains a bonus program for its employees to promote safety and productivity. Williamson does not employ a mining work force and conducts all of its mining operations exclusively through its contract operator, Mach.”

The Williamson mine was designed for an annual capacity of about 7.5 million tons. Williamson was the most productive underground coal mine in the U.S. in 2013 on a clean tons produced per man hour basis based on U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data. Williamson operates in the Herrin No. 6 coal seam using two continuous miner units to develop the mains and gate roads for its longwall panels. It produced 6.7 million tons in calendar 2013.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.