WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed troubled Tuesday by the Obama administration’s aggressive defense of its strategy for targeting job discrimination in the workplace.

Several justices said courts should have some oversight to make sure the government is diligently trying to settle cases before taking companies to court.

The dispute pits the administration against business groups that say the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is too quick to bring expensive lawsuits against companies instead of trying to negotiate settlements.

Federal law requires the EEOC to try informally settling cases first, but the question is how much can a court peer into those negotiations to make sure the EEOC is not unreasonable.

Justices on both sides of the ideological spectrum indicated Tuesday that there should be some minimal way for courts to make sure the government is not being unreasonable. But they grew increasingly frustrated when government attorney Nicole Saharsky wouldn’t budge.

What if the EEOC simply refused to negotiate at all with an employer it threatened to sue, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.

“You don’t review it,” Saharsky replied.

That didn’t sit well with Chief Justice John Roberts, who said it seemed “utterly unreasonable” that a court couldn’t review the government’s actions.

“So just trust you?” Roberts asked.

Saharsky said the problem is that once a court begins probing settlement efforts, it turns into a “mini trial” on whether the EEOC tried hard enough to settle. She said that undermines the agency’s law enforcement goals and tempts employers to drag out settlement talks.

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