Posted 03-03-2010

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced that employees filed 93,277 workplace discrimination charges with the federal agency nationwide during Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, the second highest level ever, and monetary relief obtained for victims totaled over $376 million. The FY 2009 data show that the number of charges alleging discrimination based on disability (21,451), religion (3,386) and national origin (11,134) hit record highs.

And, for the first time ever, retaliation was the #1 claim, with 33,613 charges filed, out-numbering any type of discrimination or harassment. Retaliation cases made up a full 36% of the EEOC case load last year. By comparison, there were only 12,696 sexual harassment charges filed with EEOC and state and local fair employment practices agencies around the country, combined. That’s right: There were nearly 3 times more retaliation claims than sexual harassment claims in 2009.

Since the Supreme Court decided in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006), that there can be unlawful retaliation even though there has not been unlawful harassment or discrimination, the EEOC reports that retaliation claims have gone up by more than 10,000 per year.

Employers should expect 2010 to be another year with high numbers of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims. After all, not only is nearly ten percent of the workforce involuntarily idle, but since there are fewer jobs available in the economy, people are more financially motivated to explore their legal options.

Employers should also expect even more EEOC action in 2010. The data show that the productivity of EEOC investigators increased in FY 2009, when they resolved the second highest number of charges per investigator in the past 20 years. The EEOC has asked for a $23.4 million increase in its budget for 2010 and is looking to hire 224 new staff members. “Employers must step up their efforts to foster discrimination-free and inclusive workplaces, or risk enforcement and litigation by the EEOC,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru.

What this means to you:

In this perfect storm facing employers today, combining a shaky economy, quickly changing employment laws, and increased compliance demands, management’s failure to understand basic employment law and organizational policies can lead to disaster, including low morale, substandard productivity, and costly lawsuits. Although “good intentions” go a long way, they are often not enough. But when you combine good intentions with the necessary legal and management skills, your organization will experience increased productivity, a thriving workplace, and a better bottom line.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.