Harassment Up, Discrimination Down in New EEOC Report

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 76,418 charges of workplace discrimination in fiscal year 2018, according to just-released figures. That workplace discrimination continues to happen is the bad news. But the good news is the EEOC’s discrimination data signals less people are finding reasons to sue their employers.

According to John Maley, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, the 2018 total EEOC charges of 76,418 continues a downward trend over the last several years.  In fact, from 2008 to 2016, the average number of charges was 94,000, he says. In 2017, the total dropped to 84,254, and dropped again last year by a similar amount.

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“This could correlate to the high demand for labor/low unemployment rate [and thus more hirings/fewer firings],” Maley says.

The FY 2018 data show that retaliation continued to be the most frequently filed discrimination charge filed with the agency, followed by sex, disability and race. The agency also received 7,609 sexual harassment charges–a 13.6 percent increase from FY 2017–and obtained $56.6 million in monetary benefits for victims of sexual harassment.

The charge numbers show the following top five reasons alleged, in descending order:

  • Retaliation: 39,469 (51.6 percent of all charges filed)
  • Sex: 24,655 (32.3 percent)
  • Disability: 24,605 (32.2 percent)
  • Race: 24,600 (32.2 percent)
  • Age: 16,911 (22.1 percent)

Matthew Gagnon, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw, says that the EEOC’s FY 2018 enforcement and litigation data’s sizeable decrease in the total number of charges filed against employers–the number of charges filed was the lowest in over a decade–is a good sign.

“However, the big news of fiscal year 2018 continues to be the sharp increase in enforcement activity around sexual-harassment issues,” he says.

Gagnon notes the EEOC filed 41 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in FY 2018–a 50 percent increase from FY 2017.

“This shows that, in the #MeToo era, the EEOC has shifted its focus to identifying and remedying workplace harassment issues,” he says. The just-released charge statistics, Gagnon adds, show that this is not just a trend within the EEOC.

“Despite the drop in the total number of charges, the EEOC’s statistics show a sharp increase in the number of charges alleging sexual harassment,” Gagnon explains. He notes that the 7,609 charges alleging sexual harassment in FY 2018 is the highest number of those charges since FY 2011–a year when the EEOC received almost 24,000 more charges overall than it did in FY 2018.

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To Gagnon, this trend shows that it is not just the EEOC that is reacting to the #MeToo movement. Employees are also showing a greater awareness of these issues and an increased willingness to file these types of charges than they have for many years.

“The good news is that there are steps employers can take to ameliorate this risk,” he says. Gagnon cites the June 2016 “eye-opening” report of The Select Task Force On The Study Of Harassment In The Workplace. Among other things, he says, it identifies certain industries and workplace risk factors that tend to be associated with sexual harassment allegations.

“It also provides some concrete steps and recommendations that HR professionals can take to identify and remedy issues before they escalate to litigation,” Gagnon says.

Maley says there have not been any dramatic changes in the breakdown of claims nationally across topics, such as race and sex. With that, employers need to remain focused on lowering risk.

“For employers, the takeaway is that a steady volume of charges across all topic areas continues, and best practices remain important to avoid or successfully defend charges,” Maley says.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].