New spike in EEOC charges: Keeping the target off your back

by on May 21, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

A few ideas for HR pros to keep EEOC charges far away

Be afraid. Be very afraid,” the Geena Davis character said in the 1986 horror classic, “The Fly.”

We’re not going to suggest that 2009 will be a year of HR horror. But if newly reported EEOC charge data is any guide, you’ve got reason to be concerned, if not very afraid.

As we noted in previous posts, EEOC charges for discrimination and retaliation filed by employees with the federal employment watchdog zoomed to a decade-long high last year. EEOC charges totaled 95,402 in the fiscal year ended in October 2008. That’s 15% more than the already high total of 82,792 for 2007 and the highest since 1997, the earliest year for which the agency gave comparison data.


Noteworthy notes from the report:

  • Almost 33,000 of the 2008 EEOC charges involved claims of retaliation – a category of EEOC charge that has expanded dramatically the past couple of years thanks in part to pro-employee Supreme Court rulings.
  • Age discrimination accounted for 24,582 EEOC claims, and the biggest year-on- year increase – 29%. The agency suggested several reasons for the surge in charges. They included the economic slump, which employment lawyers have warned is bound to bring an increase in legal action by laid-off employees, and workers’ “greater awareness of the law.”

    Also factoring in, the EEOC said, were “increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force” – translation: more minorities and older workers – and the agency’s own focus on broad, or systemic, discrimination. What the EEOC didn’t say is that under a Democratic administration and Congress, the screws on employers are likely to tighten further in 2009. Already, the number of EEOC monthly press releases on its own lawsuits against employers have tripled since President Obama was sworn in.


      Here are a couple of things HR can do to help protect the organization from this unsettling trend:

    1. Make sure supervisors are acutely aware of the danger of retaliation charges from any employee who makes a bias complaint and is later disciplined for other reasons.
    2. Train and retrain supervisors to recognize their own – sometimes unconscious – biases against any “protected” group, including the disabled; workers over 40; women; and racial, national or religious minorities

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