The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) just published its Performance and Accountability Report, which reflects significant increases in its outreach efforts and enforcement actions “to prevent and remedy employment discrimination” during fiscal year 2018. According to the EEOC, employers paid $505 million to resolve disputes affecting almost 68,000 victims of discrimination in the workplace, a rise of 4.3% from the $484 million reported last year. The EEOC’s legal staff resolved 141 merit lawsuits, filed 199 more in 2018, and filed 29 amicus curiae briefs on significant legal issues in employment discrimination cases.
Cases that involved sexual harassment have become the most active areas of enforcement, jumping more than 50% year over year, in part because of the #MeToo movement and the heightened public awareness it has generated. The EEOC handled more than 554,000 calls and emails as well as 200,000 inquiries this year with regard to sexual harassment and other potential discrimination claims.
"Through the public attention given sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement this past fiscal year, the EEOC ramped up its role as enforcer, educator, and leader," Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic said in a statement.
Another reason behind the increase in filed claims was the EEOC’s expansion of its website in 2017. Prior to the website revamping, a manual process was involved in initiating face-to-face interviews. Now employees with a grievance can use the agency’s Digital Charge System to perform self-screenings, submit a pre-charge inquiry, schedule an appointment for an intake interview, electronically sign the charge of discrimination, choose to participate in mediation, request an electronic copy of documentation and submit their own documents online.
In addition, the EEOC has focused its effort on educating the public. About 399,000 individuals received information about employment discrimination and their rights and responsibilities in the workplace through the commission’s outreach programs, which also included more than 300 “Respectful Workplace” training sessions that reached over 9,800 employers in both the private and public sectors.
What does this all mean for employers? First and foremost, it’s important to foster a culture free of harassment and discrimination, and review all employment practices including ensuring that employee handbooks are updated and internal procedures for handling claims are implemented and enforced. Also, all companies should have Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) as part of their insurance and risk management program to provide defense and liability coverages in the event of a lawsuit alleging harassment, discrimination and other claims.