Will we see a more active U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2018?
It’s still too early to say. President Trump nominated Janet Dhillon, EVP of general counsel and corporate secretary at Burlington Stores, Inc., to lead the EEOC. One group that has opposed her nomination is the Nation Women’s Law Center.
The NWLC says that Dhillon has no public sector or civil rights enforcement experience, only representing corporate interests during her career. “Her limited experience and the views expressed at her confirmation hearing on critical civil rights issues, combined with her role in founding and leading the Retail Litigation Center, an organization dedicated to advancing narrow legal interpretations of critical anti-discrimination and labor protections, render her unsuitable for the position to which she has been nominated, and cast grave doubt on the future of civil rights enforcement efforts at the EEOC,” the group wrote in a letter to U.S. Senators.
The NAACP also has opposed Dhillon’s nomination. “Janet Dhillon’s interests lie in protecting the interests of businesses, not in protecting or advancing workers’ rights,” the group said in a statement.
We will have to see what the new EEOC Chair will do if confirmed, but if the EEOC does decide to become more active, it is better positioned to do so according to information in its Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year 2017. In that report, the EEOC says it resolved 99,109 charges, an increase of more than 1,600 compared to the previous year. It reduced the charge workload by 16.2 percent to 61,621 charges, the lowest level of inventory in 10 years.
The EEOC also said it continued building on its digital presence. This past fall, it instituted a new online portal that allows individuals to submit online initial inquiries and requests for intake interviews with the agency, the first steps for individuals seeking to file a charge of discrimination with EEOC. The portal allows employers to receive and submit charge-related documents and allows charging
parties to check the status of their charges.
The new digital portal will make it easier for individuals to file complaints against employers regarding discrimination against a job applicant or an employee because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information). Individuals can also file charges of discrimination if they feel they are being treated unfairly because they have complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
The EEOC is also getting more serious about the troves of data it has on hand. To address the challenge of how to more effectively use this data, the EEOC created the position of Chief Data Officer. Samuel Christopher (Chris) Haffer was chosen to take on that position in November. Haffer, a 25-year veteran of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), led data analytics, research, research administration, measurement, performance improvement and reporting initiatives there.
According to an EEOC press release, FY 2017 was a successful year for enforcing anti-discrimination laws. The agency said it secured approximately $484 million for victims of discrimination in the workplace. This included $355.6 million in monetary relief for those who work in the private sector and state and local government workplaces through mediation, conciliation and other administrative enforcement and $42.4 million in monetary relief for charging parties through litigation. The EEOC also secured $86 million in monetary relief for federal employees and applicants.
The EEOC says it handled over 540,000 calls on its toll-free number and more than 155,000 contacts at its field offices, resulting in 84,254 charges being filed in FY 2017. Of those new charges, 48.8% involved employer retaliation, 33.9% involved race, 31.9% involved disabilities, and 30.4% involved a person’s sex. Charges related to the Equal Pay Act accounted for 1.2%.
Will the agency be building on that track record or will the new EEOC Chair want to take a different approach to enforcement? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, organizations should be assessing their hiring and anti-discrimination, policies to be sure they are in line with federal and state regulations.
And although it accounted for a small proportion of new EEOC charges, organizations also should review their pay equity policies. It is a growing issue. The states, in particular, have been active in strengthening pay equity laws. Expect the EEOC to become more involved in this area in the future.