For the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 2016 was a very busy year. The government office increased the number of charges it resolved over the previous year, handling a total of 97,443 incidents.
This increased effort, in turn, enabled the EEOC to secure more than $482 million over the course of 2016 for the victims of workplace discrimination.
Concerned about the potential damage an equal employment opportunity (EEO) claim could cause to your company? View our Preventing EEO Claims: Training Best Practices webinar.
With the year drawing to a close, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on all of this activity and review some of the agency’s highlights.
With harassment a growing concern that spans industries and workplaces, the EEOC conducted a comprehensive study of this issue, releasing a report in June 2016. The document outlined suggested policies for harassment prevention, which included recommendations for targeted outreach and future research.
The agency also issued revised enforcement guidance regarding workplace retaliation for the first time since 1998. Since then, the percent of EEOC charges related to retaliation have essentially doubled, making these charges the most frequently alleged type of discrimination across all sectors.
The new guidelines lower the bar on identifying retaliatory intent and are intended to accommodate U.S. Supreme Court rulings from the past 18 years.
The EEOC updated its guidelines related to national origin discrimination. Not only does the enforcement guidance address broad issues such as employment and harassment, but it also provides revised direction for more nuanced issues, such as language policies (e.g., accent discrimination, fluency requirements, English-only rules) and citizenship requirements.
To settle a sexual harassment, national origin discrimination, and workplace retaliation lawsuit, a condominium complex and its parent company agreed to pay $1,020,000 in damages. According to the suit, the business violated federal law by allowing a housekeeping manager to sexually harass, grope, and physically assault – including attempted rape – Mexican female employees that he managed. When the housekeeping staff complained, the business failed to conduct an internal investigation, made no effort to reduce the offender’s supervisorial powers, and refused to discipline him.
While on a pre-authorized short-term disability leave due to his severe coronary artery disease, the employee of a paper and packaging manufacturer was fired while recovering from open heart surgery. In addition to a $187,500 settlement, the business agreed to train its human resources managers and plant managers on disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A mining employee of Polish ancestry, after complaining about a campaign of derogatory ethnic slurs and offensive graffiti on mine walls, was fired in retaliation for this complaint. The ensuing EEOC case resulted in a $62,500 settlement. In addition, the business will institute formal harassment policies and provide education to all employees.
To settle an outstanding charge of pregnancy and disability discrimination, a Kentucky township agreed to pay $135,000 in compensatory damages and legal fees to two female police officers. During their pregnancies, the officers requested to be assigned “light duty” responsibilities, but the department instead placed the women on leave.
A city government agreed to pay $140,000 and provide other relief as part of age discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC. According to the suit, when hiring for a new executive secretary to the city manager, the municipality failed to hire applicants over the age of 50 who scored higher than the 39-year-old applicant chosen for the position.
The city will also revise its age discrimination policies, provide annual anti-discrimination training to all employees, and report any discrimination complaints directly to the EEOC for two years.
With so many policy changes over the previous year, properly navigating EEOC guidelines has only grown more complicated. Working with outside experts can help simplify compliance efforts and identify potential regulatory pitfalls before they become a larger problem.
Further, the EEOC recognizes the importance of anti-discrimination training as a deterrent for workplace harassment and retaliation, and we would love to help you address these challenges in the upcoming year.
To learn more about our harassment and discrimination courses, you can fill out the form on the right to request a demo.
We’d also recommend that you review the following materials to help prevent EEO claims against you and your company: