The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported in late January that it fielded 72,675 charges of workplace discrimination in 2019, the largest number alleging retaliation. Those figures don’t include any charges filed with state or local fair employment agencies, which EEOC does not report.
The number was down slightly from 2018’s tally of more than 76,000 charges. The number of suits filed under all federal fair employment statutes also dropped, from 217 in 2018 to 157 last year.
Title VII payouts up
Of the approximately 73,000 charges filed with EEOC in 2019, more than half were complaints of retaliation. The largest number of those retaliation complaints alleged retaliation for complaints protected by Title VII.
Those cases involve employment discrimination based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Title VII charges were followed by disability- and age-related complaints.
About 180 suits filed in 2018 or earlier were resolved in 2019. Total monetary benefits obtained through mediation, conciliation and settlements totaling $39.1 million in 2019, down from $53.6 million in 2018, due mainly to a decrease in payments for ADA– and ADEA-related cases.
Payouts in cases involving retaliation under Title VII rose to $25.8 million. That was up compared to both 2018 and 2017.
LGBT-related cases rising
One of the stats that stands out from the 2019 EEOC retaliation data is the continued rise in the number of LGBT-based sex discrimination charges and monetary payouts despite a lack of clear guidance from the nation’s highest court.
In 2004, the first full year of EEOC tracking this category, 1,100 charges resulted in $2.2 million in monetary benefits and settlement payments. Last year, 1,868 charges resulted in $7 million in payments.
Keep in mind that EEOC found “No Reasonable Cause” in more than 60% of charges every year they’ve tracked this category. As societal attitudes toward LGBT rights evolve, that percentage may drop and employers’ potential monetary liabilities rise.
Compliance = constant vigilance
Employers should take away one clear compliance lesson from the report: your discrimination and retaliation reporting and response programs can’t just be a few pages in your employee handbook.
HR should constantly review procedures with employees, supervisory staff and management and validate that your process is working.
The EEOC data highlights that all employees need training to understand what constitutes discrimination. And supervisors and managers must understand compliance obligations related to all EEOC laws and rules.
Equal pay in the spotlight
Suits alleging violation of the Equal Pay Act (EPA), while a small percentage of the total at just 1,117, were the highest since 2003. EPA-related awards were up slightly over last year but remain relatively flat over recent years.
Nevertheless, it might be a good time to look into a privileged gender pay equity audit. Experts predict that the number of cases and amounts awarded for EPA violations will likely climb during 2020 and beyond, as employees and EEOC focus more attention on pay disparities.
As always, consult with counsel before initiating any pay equity studies or policy changes.