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EEOC’s banner 2010 set record for discrimination claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Last year was the busiest ever for the EEOC, which shattered all previous records for handling private-sector workplace discrimination complaints. Employees filed 99,922 complaints during fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, 2010.

That’s up from 93,277 in 2009, a 7% increase.

For the second year in a row, more employees complained about retaliation than any particular form of discrimination. The 36,258 retaliation complaints represent an 8% increase from 2009, and a whopping 61% increase since 2006.

Race discrimination, historically the source of most EEOC complaints, resulted in 35,890 filings. Sex, disability and age discrimination complaints also topped 20,000 each. National origin discrimination and religious discrimination rounded out the top seven complaint causes.

Filings increased in all categories in 2010.

See “EEOC’s top 7” below for more stats. A complete report, including trend data, is available online from the EEOC’s web site.

The new EEOC stats offer important lessons for employers:

Lesson #1: Retaliation nation is here to stay. While race discrimination has historically been the most popular federal job bias claims, retaliation took over the top spot in 2009 and expanded that lead in 2010.

Retaliation claims can be brought when a person experiences an “adverse employment action” (firing, discipline, etc.) in reaction to:
  1. Filing a discrimination charge
  2. Complaining to the employer or government agency about discrimination
  3. Participating in a discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation.

To defend a claim, employers must be able to show the adverse job action occurred for a valid, nonretaliatory reason.

Advice: Remind supervisors to be more careful than ever to avoid lashing out in any way against employees who file—or simply voice—complaints of job bias. HR must make sure discipline is being doled out evenly and fairly.

Lesson #2: Understand the broader interpretation of “disabled.” Charges of disability discrimination rose the fastest last year, up by 17% to 25,165 claims.

The main reason: The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) took affect on Jan. 1, 2009. It broadened the scope of the ADA, making it easier for people with treatable conditions like epilepsy or mental illness to claim they are “disabled” under the ADA and, thus, due certain job protections.

Read 10 key Q&As about compliance with the ADAAA at www.theHRSpecialist.com/ADAAA.

Lesson #3: The best defense is a good offense. Another reason for the uptick in claims: The EEOC became more aggressive in reaching out to workers, teaching them about their job-bias rights and ways to file charges.

That outreach cost employers plenty, too. Between litigation, settlements and mediated agreements, U.S. employers paid out more than $404 million in damages last year in cases involving the EEOC.

Employers with sound anti-discrimination policies and practices—and an open-door compliant policy—have little reason to fear such outreach efforts.

If you do receive an EEOC complaint, don’t panic (and don’t retaliate!). Read our free primer, "How to Respond to an EEOC Complaint" at www.theHRSpecialist.com/whitepaper.

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