The situation in the United States is bleak, to say the least, for workers who are targets of employment discrimination and harassment.
Federal courts are blatantly hostile to these types of cases – dismissing most of them before they ever reach a jury – and our leaders in Washington, D.C., seem to be oblivious.
Part of the problem is that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that is supposed to be combating employment discrimination, is overwhelmed and underfunded.
The EEOC says there has been a 38 percent rise in the number of charges filed with the EEOC against private employers and state and local government employers in the past 20 years. But the EEOC’s staffing levels and funding dropped nearly 30 percent between 2000 and 2008. An infusion of resources in 2009 allowed for some rebuilding of capacity, but that was quickly stalled when funding was reduced and hiring freezes were implemented in FY 2011 and 2012.
The bottom line is that many observers feel the EEOC has been about as effective as a gnat battling an elephant in recent years.
But it seems that change is afoot. The EEOC is seeking public comment (see below) on a proposed new strategic plan that it hopes will be more effective than the EEOC’s prior practice of filing individual lawsuits against select employers.
In its new plan, the EEOC says it will strategically attack practices and issues that adversely affect large numbers of employees. The EEOC identifies five national priorities:
1. Eliminate Systemic Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring. The EEOC will target class-based hiring discrimination and facially neutral hiring practices that adversely impact particular groups. This includes, for example, steering of individuals into specific jobs due to their status in a particular group, restrictive application processes, and the use of screening tools (e.g., pre-employment tests, background screens, date of birth screens in online applications) that adversely impact groups protected under the law.
2. Protect immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers. The EEOC will target disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking and discriminatory language policies affecting these vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under the equal employment laws, or reluctant or unable to exercise them.
3. Address Emerging Issues. The agency will address emerging issues with respect to:
-The Americans with Disability Act, particularly coverage issues, and the proper application of ADA defenses, such as undue hardship, direct threat, and business necessity;
-Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals coverage under Title VII sex discrimination provisions.
-Accommodating pregnancy when women have been forced onto unpaid leave after being denied accommodations routinely provided to similarly situated employees.
4. Preserve Access to the Legal System. The EEOC will target policies and practices intended to prevent individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or which impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement effort, including retaliatory actions; overly broad waivers; and settlement provisions that prohibit filing charges with EEOC.
5. Combat Harassment. The EEOC will launch a national education and outreach campaign – aimed at both employees and employers – to prevent and appropriately respond to harassment in the workplace.
Okay, some of this sounds like politically-correct gobbledygook that is incapable of measurement. At the same time, it is encouraging that the EEOC is rethinking its past practices. The 38 percent increase in charges filed with the EEOC also represents an increase the suffering of American workers and their families who are subjected to illegal discrimination by employers. American workers need all the help they can get!
Comments and suggestions must be submitted to the EEOC about the plan by 5 p.m. ET on September 18, 2012 at firstname.lastname@example.org or received by mail at Executive Officer, Office of the Executive Secretariat, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 131 M Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20507. The Commission plans to vote on the draft plan at the end of this fiscal year.