The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was busy in fiscal year 2012. On January 25, 2013, the EEOC announced that it received 99,412 private sector workplace discrimination charges for fiscal year 2012, which runs from October 1 to September 30. The most frequently filed charges were for retaliation (37,836), race (33,512) and sex discrimination (30,356), which includes allegations of sexual harassment and pregnancy, respectively. This was slightly less than fiscal year 2011, which saw 99,947 charges in the private sector.
While the vast majority of the charges filed led to no cause findings, the EEOC filed 122 lawsuits including 86 individual suits, 26 multiple-victim suits (with fewer than 20 victims) and 10 systemic suits. The EEOC’s legal staff resolved 254 lawsuits for a total monetary recovery of $44.2 million. In matters that did not proceed to litigation but were resolved through the administrative process, the agency set a new record for monetary recovery from private sector and state and local government employers, collecting $365.4 million on behalf of complainants.
In addition to individual matters, the EEOC continued to expand its approach to addressing “systematic patterns of discrimination in the workplace.” To that end, the EEOC completed 240 systemic investigations which in part resulted in 46 settlements or conciliation agreements. These settlements, achieved without litigation, secured $36.2 million for complainants of unlawful discrimination.
With the EEOC’s new Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013 – 2016 in place, employers can expect to see even more activity by this agency in the near future. Specifically, the EEOC announced it will be prioritizing investigations and enforcement in six areas: (i) eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, (ii) protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers, (iii) addressing emerging and developing issues, (iv) enforcing equal pay laws, (v) preserving access to the legal system, and (vi) preventing harassment through systematic enforcement and targeted outreach.
To minimize exposure to claims brought through the EEOC, employers should review with counsel their compensation policies, employee contracts, employee handbooks and severance agreements to make sure they do not create a disparate impact and are current with the applicable state and federal laws. If a charge is received, employers and counsel should work together to evaluate the specific claims, develop the necessary defenses, preserve relevant documents and electronic data, and present a comprehensive response to the agency to mitigate the risk of lost business time and costs for court proceedings.