The federal agency charged with enforcing the nation’s main workplace discrimination laws just announced that it recovered over $535 million from employers on behalf of aggrieved workers and applicants this past fiscal year, a figure that shattered the previous record and set an all-time high. The EEOC’s November 16 financial report also touted successes in clearing old inventory of charges, increasing the percentage of resolutions achieved in favor of charging parties, and mediating thousands of charges to conclusion. The report further indicated that the EEOC filed the second-lowest number of merits lawsuits against employers in over two decades. What are the top five takeaways for employers from this latest report?
1. EEOC Achieves Record-High Recovery For Workers
The EEOC announced that it recovered $535.4 million for those alleging violations of federal workplace discrimination laws in FY2020, which concluded on September 30. This amounts to a record-high figure, topping the previous record set in 2015 when it recovered over $525 million. Of this amount:
- Over $106 million was recovered through lawsuits initiated by the EEOC against private employers, the highest litigation total since 2004.
- Over $332 million was paid out by private employers as a result of mediations, conciliations, and other EEOC enforcement activity.
- The EEOC recovered the remaining $96.2 million on behalf of federal employees and applicants.
These figures demonstrate that the EEOC is becoming more aggressive in seeking relief for charging parties if it concludes that a charge of discrimination has merit, particularly if the allegations fall within the scope of EEOC’s current enforcement priorities. This trend likely will continue or accelerate in FY2021.
2. Inventory Of Pending Charges At Lowest Level In 14 Years
The EEOC is obviously proud of the fact that it has further reduced its existing inventory of pending private sector charges to the lowest level in 14 years, as this development was the lead story in the agency’s November 16 tweet announcing its report. According to the agency, the inventory of pending charges was reduced by 3.7% to 41,951 in FY2020.
This builds on a 12.1% decrease in 2019, and an almost 50% reduction since 2015 when inventory stood at over 76,000 charges. The agency credits this achievement to a focus on agency-wide inventory reduction strategies, continued technological enhancements, new digital systems, and hiring additional front-line staff.
3. Agency Sees Increase In Favorable Outcomes For Workers
Despite the fact that the agency has reduced its inventory of pending charges, it is quick to point out that it is not laying down on the job when it comes to standing up for aggrieved workers. In fact, the EEOC notes that it increased the percentage of charges resolved with an outcome favorable to the charging party in FY2020 by nearly two percent, to 17.4%.
4. Number Of Lawsuits Filed Drops To Near-All-Time Low
Meanwhile, the EEOC announced that it only filed 93 merits lawsuits in FY2020, 51 fewer than were filed just the previous year, and the lowest figure since 1997. This number pales in comparison to the number of lawsuits filed several decades ago, when close to 400 such lawsuits were filed on average between 2000 and 2005. According to an interview with Bloomberg Law, EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon attributed the drop in merit suits to the “ebb and flow” of litigation from year to year.
5. EEOC Touts Mediation Success
Finally, the agency indicated that it enjoyed a successful year when it came to mediations with employers, resolving over 6,700 such matters and leading to a recovery of over $156 million to charging parties in FY2020. Of course, the large majority of these proceedings were conducted remotely due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, despite the challenges brought about by remote mediations, the agency said that the average processing time for these cases was 100 days, leading to efficient conclusions for workers and employers alike.
What Should Employers Do?
“Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the EEOC has continued to provide excellent service to the public and made progress toward fulfilling our mission,” said Chair Dhillon. Employers should recognize that, despite the ongoing pandemic and the fact the majority of agency commissioners have been appointed by a business-friendly president, the EEOC has continued its mission of targeting non-compliant employers and taking up the mantle on behalf of workers who believe they were aggrieved in workplace disputes.
In the wake of these statistics, you should be more aware than ever of the importance of a positive workplace culture and the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. You should review our firm’s five-point plan for addressing the most common harassment concerns, developed by partners Jennifer Sandberg and Joe Shelton.