Earlier this month, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC” or “Commission”) issued its annual Performance and Accountability Report, which highlights the Commission’s enforcement activity over the prior year. The Report is of interest to employers because, among other reasons, it highlights the Commission’s enforcement focus areas and might foreshadow enforcement trends in the coming year.
Highlights of the 2017 report include a drop in the backlog of the Commission’s pending charges of discrimination, which the Commission attributes to improvements in the agency’s digital systems and strategies to more efficiently prioritize charges with merit and to more quickly resolve investigations. The EEOC reports that it resolved 99,109 charges and reduced the agency’s workload by 16.2 percent, to the lowest inventory in a decade. The number of total charges filed decreased by roughly 7,000 from the prior year.
The EEOC also reports securing 484 million dollars for victims of discrimination, including 355.6 million dollars through mediation, conciliation, and other administrative enforcement.
Of greater interest to employers, the Report reflects increased litigation by the Commission. The Commission filed 184 lawsuits, a significant increase from the 86 suits filed the prior year. The lawsuits included 124 individual lawsuits, 30 multi-employee lawsuits, and 30 systemic discrimination suits. Systemic discrimination has long been a focus area of the Commission and was emphasized in the 2017 report, which may indicate a future increase in litigation of such claims. The systemic cases filed by the Commission address what the Commission views as patterns or practices of discrimination or policies that have a broad impact on particular regions, industries, employees, or applicants.
The increased litigation activity by the Commission may continue into the next fiscal year, with particular emphasis on systemic discrimination cases. The costs of defending such lawsuits are substantial. Any broadly applied employment policy that runs afoul of current law could land an employer in litigation with the EEOC over alleged systemic discrimination. Therefore, employers are encouraged to regularly review their employment policies and unwritten practices to ensure they are compliant with current law. When in doubt, consult employment counsel. A little time spent on prevention can save a prolonged, time consuming, and costly conflict with the EEOC.