The Incredible Shrinking EEOC

incredible shrinking manThe U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC )  received 99,412 private sector workplace discrimination charges during fiscal year 2012 but determined that only 4.3 percent – or 1,800 cases – were based on “reasonable cause.”

That tiny number actually reflects a slight increase from 2011, when the EEOC found that 4.1 percent of cases (1,707 cases) were based on reasonable cause. This was the lowest number since 1998.

If the EEOC  concludes a case is not based upon reasonable cause, it will not  pursue the case. The charging party can still bring a private court action – if he or she has the money to pursue litigation and can find an attorney who will take an employment discrimination case in the face of a federal judiciary that is  hostile these types of cases.

The number of charges determined by the EEOC to have “reasonable cause” has steadily declined from a high of 12 percent in 2001, when the EEOC found that 3,012 cases were based on reasonable cause.

Does this indicate that more workers  are filing bogus charges against their employers?

According to the EEOC, a finding of “reasonable cause” means the EEOC believes “that discrimination occurred based upon evidence obtained in investigation.” A finding of “no reasonable cause” means the EEOC found “no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred based upon evidence obtained in investigation.”

Linguistics  notwithstanding, the decline in cases that the EEOC deems are based on ““reasonable cause” more likely reflects  the  EEOC’s changing priorities  in the face of budget cutbacks. The EEOC last year adopted a strategic plan to focus more upon systemic patterns of discrimination. Meanwhile, the EEOC is attempting to whittle down a massive backlog of more than 70,000 cases.

The EEOC reports that in 2012 it filed a total of 122 lawsuits, including 86 individual suits, 26 multiple-victim suits (with fewer than 20 victims) and 10 systemic suits

The EEOC’s legal staff resolved 254 lawsuits for a total monetary recovery of $44.2 million.The year-end data show that retaliation (37,836), race (33,512) and sex discrimination (30,356), which includes allegations of sexual harassment and pregnancy were, respectively, the most frequently filed charges.

The EEOC lost about nine percent of its staff as a result of budget cuts in the past two years, according to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Gabrielle Martin, president of AFGE’s National Council of EEOC Locals, No. 216, warns  that threatened budget cuts in March would effectively cripple the EEOC and mean that “the United States would cease to have enforceable civil rights in the workplace.”

Overall, the EEOC  in 2012 secured monetary and non-monetary benefits for more than 23,446 people through administrative enforcement activities – mediation, settlements, conciliations, and withdrawals with benefits. The number of charges resolved through successful conciliation, the last step in the EEOC administrative process prior to litigation, increased by 18 percent over 2011.

The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.