The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has had a productive year with the filing of several employee discrimination lawsuits across the U.S., such as the disability discrimination case between lifestyle clothing retailer Pacific Sunwear of California (PacSun) and an 18-year-old student surfaced in Jacksonville, Florida.
The EEOC’s lawsuit states that the 18-year-old student, John Sumner, entered the clothing store and inquired about applying for a job while in his wheelchair. The response he received was that the store was currently not hiring. As it turns out, however, the store representative told others that the store was hiring for multiple positions. According to the EEOC, Sumner was lied to about the stores current need to hire because of his disability. The EEOC’s Regional Attorney Robert. E Weisberg stated, “PacSun could have saved itself a lot of trouble if it had simply inquired into Mr. Sumner’s ability to do the job instead of lying to him based on its prejudices.”
The EEOC asserts that PacSun’s actions towards Sumner’s job inquiry violates the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Federal law prohibits employers from treating job applicants with disabilities differently from any other applicant during the application process.
Last year, the EEOC secured approximately $484 million for victims of discrimination in the workplace. With the new EEOC online portal in operation, a spate of recent lawsuits, and a revised Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) in place, it appears that the EEOC’s 2018 FY is on track to exceed previous years in regards to activity consistent with the EEOC’s current SEP for FY 2017 – 2021. The Plan focuses on six areas:
- Eliminate Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring
- Protecting Vulnerable Workers, Including Immigrant and Migrant Workers, and Underserved Communities from Discrimination
- Addressing Selected Emerging and Developing Issues
- Ensuring Equal Pay Protections for All Workers
- Preserving Access to the Legal System
- Preventing Systemic Harassment
As the EEOC continues to identify employers violating equal employment opportunities in the workplace, here are some tips to help stay out of the spotlight:
- Stay up to date on changing legislation in states.
- Train HR supervisors on the federal EEO laws relevant to the state they are operating in. Educate them on the state laws as well.
- Educate employees on anti-harassment practices and be sure policies are being adopted across your entire organization.
- Ensure that you have data processes in place that will provide accurate data to address any EEOC enforcement actions.
Employers should review their policies on processes to ensure they do not discriminate against people with disabilities and other protected classes. They should consider reviewing the processes they have in place to defend themselves against an EEOC investigation.
Employers might also consider participating in the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program, which allows businesses to generate extra income by hiring individuals from specific groups, such as people with disabilities and military veterans.
Finally, be sure that your organization has data processes in place to ensure that you have good data health. It can make a critical difference between providing accurate information that will clear up an EEOC investigation and providing inaccurate data that keeps an investigation alive.