Last year was a busy one for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a report by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. During the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, the EEOC sharpened its focus on cases involving systemic discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the agency achieved mixed results in litigation and monetary penalties were down slightly from 2012.
The number of cases filed by the EEOC rose from 122 in 2012 to 131 in 2013, although this number was still far below the 2011 record of 261 cases. The resolution of 209 lawsuits resulted in $39 million in penalties — down from the $44.2 million recovered from 254 lawsuits in 2012.
The EEOC remained true to its commitment to make enforcement of systemic discrimination a priority, filing 21 suits alleging widespread discrimination.
Other key trends in 2013 included —
A significant increase in suits involving leave as a reasonable accommodation, many of which involved non-traditional disabilities such as mental impairments, cancer and HIV;
An increase in religious discrimination lawsuits from nine in 2012 to 12 in 2013; and
Four pregnancy discrimination settlements ranging from $20,000 to $100,000, indicating increased scrutiny in that area.
The report noted several missteps with respect to the agency's investigation and litigation of cases, including a case in which the EEOC was ordered to pay $4.7 million in attorneys' fees.
Many of these trends — the active pursuit of systemic cases and the focus on ADA claims — are likely to continue into 2014, with the potential for an increased number of cases involving national origin discrimination and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Given these predictions, employers should review their compliance plans to ensure that their discrimination policies are up to date and that they properly address other potential issues. Regular training on these policies will give managers and supervisors tools to handle these issues if they arise, while ensuring that all employees understand their legal obligations in the workplace.