Sieving Through the EEOC’s Data

Yesterday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released its breakdown of workplace-discrimination charges that the agency received in fiscal year 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014, through Sept. 30, 2015)—and, to no one’s surprise, retaliation charges topped the list, representing 44.5 percent of all charges.

ThinkstockPhotos-177129299What is somewhat notable about the number of retaliation charges, however, is the fact that it climbed 5 percent from a year earlier. (Only disability charges, ranked third on the list after race, climbed more, at 6 percent.)

Thomas B. Lewis, a shareholder with Stevens & Lee law firm in Lawrenceville, N.J., is among the ranks of those not surprised by the number of retaliation claims being filed.

“In my view,” Lewis says, “retaliation is the most subjective charge that can be filed, because employees have different definitions of what retaliation means. Oftentimes, if employees haven’t been given a raise or given a promotion, they’re going to believe they’re being retaliated against… . It all comes down to what the employee believes is happening.”

Lewis adds that the 5 percent jump from the year before is significant. “There are retaliation claims out there in which employees believe they are being retaliated against just by the way the manager looks at them.”

Of the charges on the EEOC’s list, he adds, retaliation claims are extremely difficult to prove, both for the company and the employee.

We also probably shouldn’t overlook the fact that 10 percentage points separate retaliation claims from the next nearest category of charges: race. That’s a pretty noticeable gap between No. 1 and No. 2.

In its release, the EEOC reports that it resolved 92,641 charges in fiscal year 2015, and secured more than $525 million for victims of discrimination through voluntary resolutions and litigation. However, as might be expected, most of the charges were resolved through mediation.

The agency, in fact, filed 142 merits lawsuits last year. Sure, that was an increase of nine from a year earlier, but still represents only a small portion of the 89,385 claims filed. “For a national organization covering all 50 states and trying to protect the rights of employees from all forms of discrimination,” Lewis said, “it’s [noteworthy] that so few discrimination claims actually resulted in the EEOC taking a position and advocating that position on behalf of employees.”

In case you’re wondering, the majority of the lawsuits filed alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Of course, if you’re an employer, it’s hard to find comfort in the number of claims being filed these days, especially the increase in retaliation claims. But for anyone who finds himself or herself on the receiving end of one or more claims, Lewis’ advice is to do your best to try to resolve them amicably. And if you can’t? Then try to resolve them through mediation, an approach, Lewis says, the EEOC will often push for.