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What You Should Know: Highlights of Fiscal Year 2015 at EEOC

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission commemorated its 50th anniversary on July 2, 2015.  The agency ended the fiscal year on a high note, significantly protecting more workers from job discrimination and making it easier for workers and employers to access our services.  

Overall, the agency resolved more than 92,000 charges of discrimination.

EEOC secured more than $525 million for victims of discrimination in private, state and local government, and federal workplaces. This included $356.6 million for victims of employment discrimination in private sector and state and local government workplaces through mediation, conciliation, and settlements; $65.3 million for charging parties through litigation; and $105.7 million for federal employees and applicants. Importantly, in each of these categories, the agency obtained substantial changes to discriminatory practices to remedy violations of equal employment opportunity laws and prevent future discriminatory conduct in the workplace.

EEOC helped workers obtain nearly 15,000 resolutions of charges of discrimination through the agency's administrative processes-settlements, mediations, and conciliations. This included 268 resolutions of systemic investigations, obtaining more than $33.5 million in remedies. The agency's mediation program achieved a success rate of almost 80 percent-saving time and money for workers, their employers, and the agency. The rate at which we successfully conciliated charges of discrimination rose to 44 percent this year from 38 percent last year, demonstrating EEOC's strong commitment to voluntary resolution of violations of our nation's equal employment opportunity laws.

In our federal sector program, the agency resolved 6,360 hearings complaints and secured more than $94.9 million in relief for federal employees. EEOC also resolved 3,850 appeals of agency decisions, including 42.4 percent of them within 180 days of receipt, and secured more than $10.7 million in relief.

EEOC provided training on rights and responsibilities under civil rights statutes to more than 350,000 employees, employers, and their representatives through outreach and education programs.

EEOC filed 142 lawsuits alleging discrimination including 100 individual suits and 42 suits involving multiple victims or discriminatory policies. Legal staff resolved 155 lawsuits alleging discrimination. At the end of the fiscal year, EEOC had 218 cases on its active docket, of which 48 (22 percent) involved challenges to systemic discrimination and 40 (18 percent) were multiple-victim cases.

Among the many milestones this fiscal year:

  • In the Abercrombie case, the Supreme Court held that an employer may not make a job applicant's religious practices a factor in employment decisions, even if the employer only suspects the practice is religious in nature.
  • EEOC's updated pregnancy guidance ensures that employers make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women who need them to keep working.
  • EEOC's sexual harassment and retaliation case against New Breed Logistics resulted in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruling for the first time that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from retaliation for telling harassers to stop their harassment.

At the July Commission meeting to mark EEOC's 50th year of serving the public, the agency released American Experiences versus American Expectations, a research report using EEO-1 data EEOC collects annually from employers to examine changes in the participation rates by gender, race, and national origin in the U.S. workforce from 1966 to 2013.

July's meeting was one of four the Commission held in FY 2015 to educate the public about persistent and emerging areas of discrimination in the workplace. The other three Commission meetings focused on:

  • Retaliation, which continues to be, at 45 percent of all charges filed, the most frequent basis for charges of discrimination filed with EEOC;
  • Race and national origin discrimination, which were the subject of a Commission meeting in Miami-the first outside of Washington in a decade; and
  • Harassment, an issue that is included in over 30 percent of all the charges of discrimination that EEOC receives and an area of national focus for the agency in its Strategic Enforcement Plan.

To address the pressing issue of harassment-which spans industries and effects our nation's most vulnerable workers-EEOC launched a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace in March 2015. Co-chaired by Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, the task force will examine the various forms of workplace harassment and identify and promote strategies to prevent it.  

Also during fiscal year 2015, EEOC resolved a race discrimination case against BMW Manufacturing Co., LLC, in which the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina ordered BMW to pay $1.6 million and provide job opportunities to the alleged victims. EEOC alleged that BMW excluded African-American logistics workers from employment at a disproportionate rate when the company's new logistics contractor applied BMW's criminal conviction records guidance to incumbent logistics employees.

The Commission recognized that discrimination against an individual because of his or her sexual orientation is necessarily discrimination because of sex and, therefore, prohibited under Title VII (Baldwin v. Department of Transportation).  In addition, EEOC found that denying a transgender individual access to the restroom corresponding to his or her gender identity constituted harassment based on sex (Lusardi v. Department of Transportation).

In one of the first lawsuits EEOC filed to protect transgender workers, the agency succeeded in reaching a settlement with Lakeland Eye Clinic, which agreed to adopt a company policy prohibiting discrimination against employees who are transgender, transitioning from one gender to another, and/or not conforming to gender stereotypes.

We made working with EEOC easier and more efficient for individuals seeking to redress discrimination at their workplace, employers striving to correct or prevent discriminatory practices, and government agencies helping to ensure equal employment opportunity for all. 

We enhanced our use of technology to provide the public with greater access to agency services and streamline our business systems. EEOC launched a pilot (now in all offices) to bring online several components of charge investigations, including notices to employers, invitations to mediate, and employers' responses to charges of discrimination. Another system allows federal agencies to securely transmit hearings and appeals files to EEOC through our Federal Sector EEO Portal (FedSEP).

In fiscal year 2015, we updated our guidance on the process for complaints of discrimination against federal agencies by revising the agency's Management Directive 110 (MD-110). The new MD-110 provides much-needed clarity on legal questions and complaint procedures, thereby strengthening EEOC's ability to protect the rights of federal workers to equal employment opportunity.

We also established an EEOC Performance Metrics Group of researchers and federal sector EEO practitioners who will measure EEOC's effectiveness in ending and preventing discrimination against federal sector workers. EEOC will look to this group for recommendations on ways to improve federal sector EEO programs.

To increase our accessibility to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, EEOC acquired new technology and hired staff to respond to inquiries using American Sign Language (ASL) through video phones, the preferred approach for communicating with individuals whose primary language is ASL. EEOC is now one of only three federal agencies offering direct, interactive video calls-rather than calls through interpreters  or video relay services-to members of the public who are deaf or hard of hearing.

We invested more than $2 million in employee training and development with the goal of better serving workers and employers affected by workplace discrimination. More than 1,000 EEOC staff members in mission critical occupations received specialized training on subjects such as investigations, litigation, systemic enforcement, and ethics.

EEOC closed fiscal year 2015 by putting in place three crucial blueprints that will shape the agency's work for years to come.

  • To better educate the public about trends and challenges in achieving equal employment opportunity, we outlined a Research and Data Plan that will enable us to use data to enhance our enforcement work, as well.
  • We established Quality Enforcement Practices, which set guidelines for improving the timeliness and ensuring the quality of agency investigations and conciliations.
  • We instituted an agency-wide Communications and Outreach Plan to enhance the clarity, consistency, and coordination of EEOC's vital communications and outreach efforts.

In reflecting on these and the many other accomplishments of fiscal year 2015, we acknowledge the unwavering commitment of EEOC staff, the courageous workers who seek justice in the face of discrimination, and employers who lead the way to opening the doors to equal opportunity.

The Commission looks forward to the coming year as we redouble our efforts to craft lasting solutions that advance opportunity for all.