In a November 23, 2010 press release, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace anti-discrimination laws, reported that it received 99,922 charges in FY2010 (ending September 30, 2010), which is a record for the 45-year old agency. This represents a 7.2% increase over the number of charges filed in FY2009. To put this figure into perspective, it means that more than 11 new charges were filed every hour during the course of the year.
According to its Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year 2010, the EEOC attributes the increase in part to the expansion of its statutory authority as a result of the passage of the ADA Amendment Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, all of which extend additional protections to employees and applicants for employment. The EEOC also has made it easier for individuals to file charges by telephone and email. These factors, coupled with a continuing poor economy, shouldn’t make the increase a surprise to anyone.
According to the Report, the EEOC filed 250 lawsuits on behalf of individuals in FY2010. The suits included 192 claims under Title VII, 40 claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 28 claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and two claims under the Equal Pay Act. The EEOC’s legal unit resolved 285 lawsuits in FY2010, for a total monetary recovery of $85 million, which represents only a portion of the $319 million the agency secured on behalf of individuals through all of its administrative enforcement activities during the year.
Comprehensive enforcement and litigation statistics won’t be reported until early 2011. But it’s obvious from the figures released so far that employers must be more vigilant than ever in making sure that they treat employees in accordance with the law. Even if a charge proves to be meritless, the cost in time and money to defend it can take its toll. Employers unsure of how to handle a particular employee-relations matter should consult with knowledgeable employment counsel before making a final decision.