WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court could put the brakes on the Obama administration’s growing crackdown against companies facing claims of discrimination against women, minorities and other protected groups.

Justices will hear arguments Tuesday in a case that considers whether employers can defend discrimination lawsuits by asserting that government lawyers did not try hard enough to settle claims before going to court.

Companies are complaining increasingly about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s “systemic litigation” program, which turns individual complaints of bias into high-stakes class-action cases on behalf of dozens or even hundreds of workers.

The enforcement strategy has netted over $100 million in legal judgments and settlements from more than 50 companies since 2011, including $20 million from Verizon Inc. to settle allegations that the company unfairly fired or disciplined hundreds of disabled workers for missing work.

EEOC general counsel P. David Lopez has said the bigger cases send a stronger message to all employers about complying with the law. But employer groups deride the strategy as “sue first and negotiate later.” They complain of government bullying tactics and unfair take-it-or-leave-it offers that do not allow for meaningful settlement talks.

Many employers confronted with claims of workplace bias would rather negotiate a minimal settlement with the EEOC and pledge to fix the problems than mount a costly legal defense in court.

The case before the high court involves an Illinois mining company sued by the EEOC in 2011 for failing to hire any female workers despite receiving applications from many qualified women. Mach Mining says the suit should be thrown out because the commission did not try in good faith to reach a settlement before taking the company to court.

A federal judge agreed to look into whether the EEOC’s attempt to settle the case was “sincere and reasonable.” But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed that, saying a court has no business peering into the EEOC’s private settlement talks.

Federal law does require the EEOC to attempt to halt unlawful employment practices by “informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion.” But the EEOC may choose to sue if it is unable to reach a settlement that is “acceptable to the commission.”

Lower courts have struggled to determine exactly what that means. Some courts have required a minimal showing of “good faith,” while other courts probe more deeply.