The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) released enforcement and litigation data for the 2017 fiscal year. The 84,254 workplace discrimination charges listed on the report led to 184 lawsuits against employers and $398 million in settlements.
Retaliation ranked highest
Retaliation, occurring when employers treat some employees less favorably than others, was the most common charge. Retaliation accounted for nearly 49 percent of the complaints. Charges of race, disability, sex and age discrimination made up the rest of the top five, matching the trends of previous years.
A total of 3,690 charges were filed in New York State making up 4.4 percent of the total U.S. charges. Mirroring the national trend, retaliation charges topped the list accounting for 46.4 percent of the total state charges. Sex, race, disability and age discrimination accounted for the bulk of the remaining charges.
Handling a charge
For businesses facing discrimination charges the EEOC offers suggestions for how to resolve the matter. Once a charge has been filed with the EEOC, the employer is notified with a Notice of a Charge of Discrimination. The notice outlines the complaint of discrimination. At this point employers should remember that the notice only specifies that a complaint was filed, but it does not mean the employer has violated EEOC laws.
Depending on the allegations, the notice may ask the employer to respond to the charge. This is referred to as a “position statement”. Employers should use this opportunity to explain why the charge is incorrect or not illegal. Although the employer is not required to hire an attorney, legal assistance with drafting the position statement may be beneficial.
Cooperation is key
Even if the employer believes the charges are frivolous, a response is recommended. As the EEOC investigates the claim they may ask for additional documentation. It is in the employer’s best interest to be cooperative with the investigator as the EEOC may yet dismiss the charge.
As noted, retaliation accounts for the bulk of EEOC claims. Employers should take care not to retaliate against an employee who filed the charge or any employees who participated in the EEOC investigation. Even if the EEOC concludes the original charges did not have merit, additional retaliation charges could be filed.