As most of you are aware, the EEOC is charged with enforcing the federal anti-discrimination statutes that impact most employers. The primary vehicle utilized to bring an allegation of discrimination under those statutes is for an applicant, employee, and/or former employee to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The filing of a charge typically triggers an investigative phase and the issuance of some sort of finding by the EEOC. The EEOC tracks and makes public the statistical data for any given year. A review of the statistics can be informative in viewing the big picture of where the risks lie for employers. In looking at the 2009 data (the most recent available), the following points merit mention:
1. Claims of discrimination filed in 2009 are even or slightly higher than those filed in 2008 and remain at much higher levels than 2007 filings. When reviewing the raw data, remember that a charge can consist of multiple claims of discrimination which must be counted as a separate claim.
2. Race, gender, and age based claims declined in 2009 as compared to 2008. While these traditional areas of discrimination claims seems to have stagnated over the last two years, the overall numbers of claims in these areas make up a significant volume of claims filed with the EEOC.
3. National origin, religion, disability, and retaliation claims are all up as compared to 2008. Claims of national origin and religious discrimination don't account for many claims overall, but these are both areas that have experienced considerable and rapid growth in the number of claims filed since 2005.
4. Retaliation, retaliation, and more retaliation. Claims of retaliation outnumber all other areas in which an individual can choose to make a claim. This is partly due to the ability of a retaliation claim to be filed along with almost any other claim in a charge. They are also high due to the ease by which and employer can fall into the trap of retaliating against an employee for making a charge or filing a complaint (both internal and external). Keep in mind that an initial charge of discrimination can be amended should retaliation occur after a charge is filed.
What's it all mean? Employers should continue their efforts to train employees and to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. A further emphasis on religious and national origin discrimination probably makes sense during your next periodic employee and/or management training sessions. Finally, employers should think carefully about retaliation concerns. Managers should be trained and coached specifically on retaliation avoidance, and HR should be directly involved in all decision-making for employees involved with internal and/or external complaints.
You can find the EEOC statistics at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm