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Why Employers Should be Concerned About the Increase in Charges of Employment Discrimination

On January 24, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued an announcement that should serve as a wake up call for employers. The EEOC announced that it had received a record 99,947 charges of employment discrimination, and obtained $455.6 million in relief through its administrative program and litigation in fiscal year 2011. Interestingly, the EEOC announced that charges alleging retaliation under all of the statutes that the EEOC enforces were the most numerous, at approximately 37.4% of all charges, followed closely by charges of race discrimination, at 35.4%. Charges with allegations of sex discrimination and age discrimination increased.

Although the EEOC’s announcement did not include reasons for the increase in the number of charges, it is safe to assume that there are a number of factors which contributed to the increase, including the following:

  1. The economic downturn and ensuing economic rollercoaster have left many without jobs and many others feeling very insecure in their existing positions. In the past, employees who may have felt mistreated by their former employers often simply moved on with their lives because other viable employment opportunities existed. Today, and since the beginning of the economic downturn, such options have been fewer and farther between. As a result, many employees believe that they have “no real choice” but to attempt to seek redress for mistreatment through the judicial and administrative systems.
  2.  The agencies that enforce the anti-discrimination statutes, both at the federal and state level, are pursuing claims of discrimination more aggressively than was the case in prior administrations, and have greater resources to do so.
  3. It appears that employers, in general, have failed to take the consistent “best practices” steps -- such as establishing sound employment documents and conducting appropriate training - to prevent such claims from being filed in the first instance.

Employers who may have thought that it was appropriate during this economic downturn to address employment related issues without professional assistance and/or who decided that the “expense” of updating employment policies and procedures and training employees was a luxury that they could not afford, need to rethink their positions. The EEOC’s press release is just the latest cautionary message for employers in this regard. The old saw remains truer today than perhaps ever; namely, that when it comes to preventing employment claims and positioning employers to successfully defend them, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
 

Marc Engel is an employment and litigation attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland. For more information about avoiding or defending against discrimination claims, contact Marc at (301) 657-0184 or mrengel@lerchearly.com.

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