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Paul Zimmerman
pzimmerman@mrllp.com
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2011 Another Record Year for EEOC

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it 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. The EEOC obtained a record $455.6 million in relief for private sector, state and local employees and applicants in 2011, a more than $51 million increase from 2010. This continued the EEOC’s upward trend of the past three years. The agency filed 300 lawsuits in 2011 that resulted in $91 million of relief, the third year-over-year increase in a row. Twenty-three of the lawsuits involved systemic allegations involving large numbers of people.

Once again, charges alleging retaliation were the most numerous, at 37,334 charges received, or 37.4 percent. Coming in a close second were race discrimination charges, at 35,395 charges or 35.4 percent. While the numbers of charges with race and sex discrimination allegations declined from 2010, charges with the two other most frequently-cited allegations increased: (1) disability discrimination–25,742 and (2) age discrimination–23,465. The agency’s disabilities cases produced the highest increase in monetary relief, increasing 35.9 percent to $103.4 million. Back impairments were the most frequently cited disability, followed by other orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes. The fiscal year 2011 enforcement and litigation statistics, which include trend data, are available on the EEOC’s website.

As these statistics make clear, retaliation claims are a significant area of potential liability. Often, employers are able to spot potential harassment and discrimination claims, but fall short in taking action necessary to prevent retaliation claims. The massive increase in EEOC litigation underscores the critical need for employers to take action to protect themselves, including (1) development and distribution of anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies and (2) training of all managers and employees on zero-tolerance policies regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Employers should periodically audit discipline and discharge decisions to ensure compliance with company policy. They should add a layer of review for critical employment decisions. And they should ensure that they are ready to conduct prompt and thorough responses to employee complaints, training personnel in advance as necessary.

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.