The EEOC’s Quiet Transformation to Business Service Provider

At one time, the EEOC was seen as an opponent of big business, a champion of powerless workers who were denied equal rights in the workplace.

Not so much today.

Is it a coincidence that the EEOC recently got its first big budget increase in years and was applauded by U.S. Chamber of Commerce  – no friend to workers – for focusing on “compliance assistance” rather than enforcement and litigation?

In the past decade, the EEOC has quietly shifted its emphasis away from litigation to “compliance” through education, training and mediation.

Bloomberg recently reported that Janet Dhillon, the nominee to chair the EEOC, and Sharon Fast Gustafson, the nominee to serve as EEOC general counsel, hope to focus more energy on conciliation and mediation in the years ahead. Since the pie is only so big, this  means the EEOC will focus even less energy on litigation, which has been declining for years.

One can see why the EEOC’s new focus benefits the EEOC,  which has endured withering criticism in recent years from members of the U.S. Congress and the federal courts for filing lawsuits against large employers. It is unlikely that anyone  in Congress or the federal courts will mourn or even notice the EEOC’s absence. Yet, the EEOC’s shift in focus is not likely to address systemic and/or intentional discrimination by employers.

The EEOC acknowledges that it is responsible for “enforcing” the nation’s employment discrimination laws. The dictionary definition of enforcement is “the act of compelling observance of or compliance with a law, rule, or obligation.” Mediation does not compel compliance with the law except in the sense that it is  a free and painless exit strategy for companies that have engaged in illegal discrimination.

The EEOC’s mediation program, which began in the 1990’s, allows discriminators to avoid the expense, notoriety and  potentially catastrophic risk of a  court proceeding. Mediation is confidential so employees back home and the general public are kept in the dark.  And it’s free. Continue reading “The EEOC’s Quiet Transformation to Business Service Provider”

The EEOC’s Surprising New Fan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

After years of criticism, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  is now applauding the EEOC for focusing on “compliance assistance” rather than enforcement and litigation.

Randel K. Johnson, a senior vice president of the Chamber, “commends” the EEOC for “identifying efforts to focus resources on compliance assistance” in a letter submitted to the EEOC in connection with a draft of the EEOC’s proposed new strategic plan for 2018-2022. The Chamber is a conservative, profit-making group that lobbies the legislature and federal courts on behalf of business interests. It consistently opposes pro-labor measures.

The EEOC  is seeking comment on a draft of its proposed strategic plan until 5 p.m .ET on January 8, 2018.  To weigh in, go here or to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EEOC-2017-0005-0001.

In the letter, Johnson refers to the Chamber’s 2014 report to Congress in which the Chamber criticized the EEOC for  “enforcement and litigation abuses.” The Chamber’s report came at a time when the EEOC was litigating the fewest number of cases in modern history and had completely ignored a major increase in age discrimination cases during and since the Great Recession.  In 2013, the EEOC had  filed 147 lawsuits, compared to 416 in 2005.  But the Chamber’s report was an effective public relations ploy and seems to have had a big impact on the EEOC, which reduced its litigation efforts even further.  The EEOC filed only 114 lawsuits in 2016 (of which only TWO contained age discrimination claims). Continue reading “The EEOC’s Surprising New Fan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce”

Age Discrimination in Employment Became More Visible in 2017

Victoria A. Lipnic, the acting chairperson of the EEOC, earlier this month called for a “thorough review” of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).

The chairperson of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. Susan Collins, questioned why age discrimination is treated differently under the law than discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin.

The above statements represent a sea change in thinking about age discrimination in employment, which has long been epidemic, unaddressed and invisible in American society.

It is also significant that an attorney for the AARP suggested in 2017 – for the first time – that the ADEA is not up to the task of addressing age discrimination. The AARP claims to advocate for Americans over the age of 50 but has had little impact on age discrimination in employment in the past 50 years, while reaping billions from licensing deals with medical, internet and travel providers that exploit its supposed 38 million membership base  Over the years, the AARP issued press releases (a.k.a.marketing materials) about surveys and studies and a tiny AARP legal advocacy team filed occasional lawsuits or “friend of the court” briefs in age discrimination cases.  But the AARP never put its money where its mouth is, which raises questions about whether the AARP’s advocacy mission is overwhelmed by a conflict of interest with AARP’s mammoth profit-making enterprise. Continue reading “Age Discrimination in Employment Became More Visible in 2017”

EEOC Acting Chair says it’s time for “thorough Review” of Age Discrimination in Employment Act

EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic said Thursday the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 – which turns 50 Friday – “deserves a thorough review to insure it is meeting the needs of today’s workforce.”

In addition, she said, “We need a cultural awakening. Instead of  negative expectations, how about recognizing the positives? Age diverse teams and cross-generational mentoring produce real benefits for both workers and employers.”

“Utilizing the talent of everyone, regardless of age, is good business. This is talent that our economy cannot afford to waste. . .” – Lipnic

Lipnic was not specific about why she believes the ADEA deserves a thorough review; how the ADEA may be failing to meet the needs of today’s workforce; and whether the ADEA will indeed get the thorough review that it deserves.

Lipnic focused on what she characterized as the ADEA’s success. She noted the ADEA was adopted in 1967 when “age discrimination was blatant. Workers over age 45 were barred from many jobs based solely on their age and mandatory retirement was commonplace for those in their 60s. Since then the ADEA has largely stopped openly discriminatory practices. But age discrimination is still too common and often accepted.” She said older workers continue to confront negative stereotypes and that age discrimination deprives them of their dignity and financial security.

But is the ADEA a success?

Others would point to evidence that age discrimination remains blatant, epidemic and unaddressed 50 years after the ADEA’s adoption.

Continue reading “EEOC Acting Chair says it’s time for “thorough Review” of Age Discrimination in Employment Act”

Senate Aging Committee Pledges to Fight Age Discrimination in Employment

At a hearing on Wednesday, leaders of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging vowed to “fix” a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it very difficult for older workers to fight age discrimination in federal court.

Committee Chairperson Susan Collins, R-ME, and Ranking Leader Bob Casey, D-PA,  also acknowledged the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 15, 1967.

Collins and Casey addressed the Supreme Court’s catastrophic 2009 decision, in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, which raised the burden of proof in ADEA cases far above that of race or sex discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Since Gross, older workers have been required prove that age discrimination was not just a motivating factor but the decisive factor in an adverse employment action. The Gross decision legalized a broad swath of  discrimination that is illegal under Title VII and sent a signal to employers that age discrimination will be tolerated.

 “For the life of me,” said Collins, “I don’t understand why there is a higher burden for proving that age discrimination was the reason for the adverse employment action … compared to gender, religion, race.”

The legislators expressed strong support for a bill they are sponsoring, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), which would essentially restore the status quo with respect to the plaintiff’s evidentiary burden prior to the Gross decision. The bill  has been introduced several times since 2009 but has never made it out of committee to a vote. Sen. Casey, who worked on age discrimination cases as an attorney, said it was always hard for workers to fight back against insidious age discrimination but that it is even harder today “because the Supreme Court weakened the ADEA and we’ve got to fix that.”

A witness at the hearing, Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for the AARP, urged the Committee to hold a series of hearings to learn what changes are needed to update and strengthen the ADEA to adequately protect older workers. “The AARP believes that it is well past time to update and strengthen the ADEA so that it can respond to the challenges facing today’s older workers in today’s workplace,” she said.

As I demonstrated in my 2013 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, the ADEA was far weaker than Title VII when it was adopted 50 years ago and it has since been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the book, I proposed repealing the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII, as was originally proposed when the passage of Title VII was being debated by Congress.

According to McCann, three in ten near-retiree-age (55-64) households have no retirement savings at all and the median retirement savings of all near-retiree households was only $14,500 in 2013. McCann said financial need is by far the most important reason that workers aged 45-74 work. She blamed age discrimination on persistent negative stereotypes and discriminatory employer recruitment practices, including advertising for “digital natives,” specifying a maximum number of years of experience or limiting recruitment to entry-level positions on college campuses.

Financial need is by far the most important reason that workers aged 45-74 work – AARP.

The committee also issued a report on Wednesday examining the nation’s aging workforce, “America’s Aging Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges.”  The report states the number of Americans over age 55 in the labor force is projected to increase from 35.7 million in 2016 to 42.1 million in 2026, and, by 2026, aging workers will make up nearly one quarter of the labor force.  The business case for hiring, retaining, and supporting older workers is strong, according to the report, but challenges exist – including age discrimination, inadequate training opportunities, working while managing health conditions and disabilities, balancing caregiving responsibilities with work, and preparing financially for retirement.

Collins said U.S. employers are going to need older workers in the years ahead and can’t afford to “discard skills and experience that older workers bring to workplace.”

Another witness, Lisa Motta, 54, from Pittsburgh, Pa., testified about re-entering the workforce in her 50s  after having lost her sight. A former teacher, she now works as a recruiting administrator at PNC Bank. “As America’s workforce grows older, more and more workers will face challenges like these and will need additional supports and accommodations,” Motta said. “They will also need laws in place that ensure that when they walk into an interview they do not face any form of discrimination. When we make it easier for these workers to succeed, everyone benefits.”

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, the Senate aging committee was criticized for failing to act in the face of the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace that occurred during and since the Great Recession.

Absent from Wednesday’s hearing was a representative from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has ignored a major spike in age discrimination complaints dsince 2008 and rampant age discrimination in the federal government, and has issued administrative decisions that reflect a higher standard in age discrimination cases than in race or sex discrimination case.

Is “Poise” a Qualification or a Subjective Assessment Prone to Bias?

Qualifications normally are an  important consideration in discrimination cases.

In recent weeks, however, the EEOC has ruled in two age discrimination cases that subjective assessments  outweigh objective qualifications.

In both cases, Carlton M. Hadden, Jr. director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, held that federal agencies did not engage in age discrimination when they ignored the superior qualifications of older applicants and hired younger, seemingly far less qualified workers. The EEOC, which has declined to comment, upheld both decisions.

In one of the cases, Hadden ruled that an African-American female in her 20s was more qualified for the position of lead police officer at a veteran’s center in Dallas than a 48-year-old white male who was then serving as lead police detective at the center.  The male had 20 years of high-level experience in policing; the female had served a stint in the Army military police.

Hadden said the female candidate “arguably has more experience in the intangible areas sought by the (hiring panel), such as poise, compassion, leadership, and the ability to cope with stress…” But are “poise” and “compassion” really “qualifications” or are they subjective assessments that are subject to cultural bias? And why doesn’t an officer who is in a leadership position show more leadership potential than an individual who is not? These decisions raise questions about whether the EEOC is implementing its own vision of affirmative action rather than federal law.

In the past, courts have looked skeptically at subjective assessments in hiring  because research shows that hiring managers often harbor subconscious bias.

An older candidate may not seem poised if members of the hiring panel harbor bias that older people are ugly, sickly or lacking in enthusiasm.

The issue is important because today there is rarely direct evidence of  discrimination. Plaintiffs must show that the employer’s non-discriminatory explanation for a negative employment action was a pretext for discrimination.  It’s hard to disprove an employer who says the other candidate had more poise and compassion.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 discussed how courts should assess  “plainly superior qualifications”  in the  case of  Ash, et al. v. Tyson Foods, Inc. The U.S. Supreme Court clearly was not talking about  the employer’s subjective assessment of the candidates – that’s what the Court was concerned about.

In the Ash case, the plaintiffs, two African-Americans, argued that Tyson used job qualifications that were not required by company policy to exclude them and justify promoting two white males. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta dismissed their complaint, ruling they had ailed to raise an inference of discrimination.

The 11th Circuit ruled that a plaintiff must show the disparity in qualifications was “so apparent as virtually to jump off the page and slap you in the face.”  The Supreme Court rejected this standard, calling it “”unhelpful” and “ambiguous.”

In the Ash decision, the U.S. Supreme Court referred approvingly to far less stringent standards than the one articulated by the 11th Circuit. The Court noted a federal appeals court in California ruled  that a pretext of discrimination can be found where a candidate was not hired despite  “clearly”superior qualifications.” The Court cited a ruling by a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia that a fact-finder might infer pretext if a “reasonable employer would have found the plaintiff to be significantly better qualified for the job.”

Hadden did not cite any legal authority to justify equating subjective assessments with objective qualifications. The EEOC has declined to comment.

The EEOC routinely rejects subjective assessments in race and sex discrimination cases. Why is there a different standard for age discrimination?

The other age discrimination case dismissed by the EEOC in August condoned hiring workers based on “cultural fit.” This concept is so widely regarded as an invitation for bias that it is now considered taboo even in the business community.

The bottom line is that the EEOC is locked in a time warp, despite the fact that it was designated by Congress to implement the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and should be in the forefront on the issue of equal rights. And, since EEOC cases are secret, we have no way of knowing how many older workers have had their cases dismissed on the basis of reasoning that follows no legal precedent and appears to be the equivalent of a whim.

Behavioral Design Algorithms Show Promise and Peril in Hiring

A new technology has the potential to both reduce and exacerbate illegal bias in hiring.

The New York Times has reported that two start-up hiring platforms, Applied and Pymetrics, have created algorithms using  artificial intelligence and neuroscience games that can level the playing field for gender, ethnic and socioeconomic representation.

Age discrimination also is illegal but it was not mentioned. This despite considerable evidence  showing that employers currently are systematically discriminating against older workers by using computer software to screen out their resumes and divert them to a digital trash can.  Research shows that older women are the most severely affected by hiring discrimination.

Spokespersons for Applied and Pymetrics said behavioral design algorithms  are capable of analyzing hiring factors that are more predictive of performance and less biased than traditional resume screening tools. The algorithms are tweaked until men and women and people of different ethnic backgrounds get similar scores to qualify for hire. A spokesperson for Applied cited a large test in which over half of the people that were hired would not have been were it not for the platform. A  Pymetrics spokesperson said the company has been highly successful in improving gender, ethnic and socioeconomic representation for clients like Accenture and Unilever.

The behavioral design companies say the technology is equally capable, in the wrong hands, of magnifying hiring bias.

Continue reading “Behavioral Design Algorithms Show Promise and Peril in Hiring”

EEOC Secrecy Rule Hides Procedural Irregularities and Gross Unfairness

Note: About a week after this story was written, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against a Texas television station because it allegedly failed to consider qualifications when it rejected a 42-year-old  female applicant for a position as a weather person. This lawsuit completely contradicts the EEOC’s decision in the case below and raises questions about what the EEOC’s position is with respect to qualifications.

A recent decision by the EEOC raises questions about whether the secrecy surrounding the EEOC’s handling of discrimination complaints hides serious procedural irregularities and basic unfairness.

EEOC spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown has said that federal law “prohibits EEOC employees from confirming or denying the existence of charge filings, investigations or administrative resolutions.  The only time information about a specific case becomes public is if EEOC files a lawsuit against the employer, which is usually a last resort.” This means that complaints and documents associated with the EEOC’s adjudication of complaints are secret – except in the rare instance when the EEOC files a lawsuit or a complainant objects publicly (and someone listens) to the EEOC’s handling of her complaint.

The EEOC’s secrecy rule stands in sharp contrast to the openness of the federal court system. If a complaint is filed in federal court, it is public and so are the documents associated with the complaint, unless the judge enters an order to seal the file. That order can be challenged by the media. Public access to court records serves to insure the integrity of the court system. The EEOC’s closed door rule leaves the public in the dark about the basis for complaints, why the Administrative Law Judge ruled the way h/she did, the context for the OFO’s decision on an appeal of the ALJ’s ruling and why the EEOC chose to affirm or reject the OFO’s decision. With secrecy, the public has no way to insure the integrity of the EEOC’s handling of complaints.

Not only does secrecy fail to insure integrity at the EEOC but it clearly benefits discriminatory corporations and businesses. Their customers never find out about their illegal acts and neither do their employees, who might put two-and-two together and file their own discrimination complaints.  Complainants, who are almost always individuals, may prefer to have their name remain confidential because the mere fact they filed a complaint may make it difficult for them to find new employment. However, this preference can be accommodated through the use of a pseudonym, which is a practice the EEOC already employs when it publishes a precedential decision.

 Secrecy allows the EEOC to evade accountability for misconduct and discriminatory rulings. 

Continue reading “EEOC Secrecy Rule Hides Procedural Irregularities and Gross Unfairness”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce No “Friend of the Court”

Nice to see someone calling out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which frequently inserts itself into national litigation as a “friend of the court.”

In reality, the Chamber is almost always an advocate for a dues paying corporate member and espouses a position that is anti-employee and anti-consumer. In 2014, I argued the Chamber was a federal court lobbyist.

According to Reuters, the firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein has opposed  the Chamber’s request to file an amicus or “friend of the court” brief in a case involving a challenge by Direct TV to the certification of a class action by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.  Lieff’s brief argues the Chamber, the Chamber’s lawyers, DirectTV and Direct TV’s lawyers are bound so closely together that even under a liberal reading of the definition of an amicus curiae, the Chamber cannot legitimately be regarded as a friend of the court.

“The Chamber is not merely a friend of the party, but essentially the party itself.” – Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein

Continue reading “U.S. Chamber of Commerce No “Friend of the Court””

Support for American Workers is Hard to Find

Who is standing up for the rights of American workers?

GOP President Donald Trump and the GOP-led U.S. Congress seem to be determined to eliminate worker rights rather than to expand them. Trump has reversed a bevy of pro-labor measures that former Democratic President Barack Obama enacted on his own without Congressional backing. Meanwhile, workers continue to seethe about mostly Democratic trade policies that sent American jobs to other countries.

Labor unions are barely hanging on, despite the fact that unions pioneered many of the employment benefits that workers take for granted today. In 2016, the union rate for private sector workers was 6.4 percent – down from 20.1 percent in 1983.  Organized labor is currently battling a potentially crippling effort by Trump and the GOP to prevent unions from requiring nonmembers to pay representation fees.

It may be an understatement to say that advocacy of worker rights  does not appear to be high on the agendas of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and US. Department of Labor.

Under the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama,  the EEOC shifted its focus away from filing lawsuits and prosecuting employers who engaged in illegal discrimination. Instead, the EEOC is focused on providing free dispute resolution services to these very same employers. Mediation is often a lousy deal for discrimination victims, who walk away with a pittance to compensate for the loss of a decent job, but it’s always a great deal for employers, who avoid potentially catastrophic fees and damages stemming from a lawsuit.  Also, mediation is completely secret so other potential litigants are kept in the dark.  Meanwhile, the EEOC has for years ignored one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our day – blatant and epidemic age discrimination in hiring that is particularly devastating to older women, who suffer twice the poverty rate of men in their old age.  The EEOC received more than 20,000 age discrimination complaints in 2016; it  filed only TWO lawsuits with “age discrimination claims.” Continue reading “Support for American Workers is Hard to Find”