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By LAURA LIEBECK– The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws, last year handled a record number of cases alleging workplace discrimination and secured a record high financial settlement total for those cases.
The EEOC’s oversight covers discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
According to a just-released report by the Commission, for fiscal 2011 the EOOC received 99,947 charges of employment discrimination and obtained $455.6 million in relief settlements. That’s a gain of more than $51 million over the past fiscal year.
This caseload result reduced the agency’s pending inventory for the first time in 10 years and the dollar amount continued the upward trend of the past three years.
In addition, the EEOC reported that for the second straight year, the Commission resolved more charges than it received and ended the fiscal year with a 10% decrease in case inventory.
The year ended with 112,499 resolutions, an increase of 7% or 7,500 more resolutions than it handled in fiscal 2010. At the end of the 2010 period, the EEOC was left with 78,136 pending charges, the first year the agency recorded a reduction since 2002.
“For the second year in a row, the EEOC received a record number of new charges of discrimination,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien. “Nevertheless, the hard work of our employees, combined with increased investments in training, technology and staffing in 2009 and 2010, and strategic management of existing resources made 2011 a year of extraordinary achievements for the EEOC.”
The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law, which includes most employers with at least 15 employees — 20 employees in age discrimination cases — most labor unions and employment agencies.
When the Commission is faced with a discrimination charge, its responsibility “is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding,” according to the EEOC. “If we find that discrimination has occurred, we will try to settle the charge. If we aren’t successful, we have the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public.”
The Commission does not file lawsuits in all cases when discrimination is found.
During the past fiscal year, the EEOC’s enforcement programs in both the private and federal sectors helped 5.4 million individuals benefit from changes in employment policies or workplace practices.
The Commission’s mediation program reached record levels in two specific areas: number of resolutions (9,831, up 5% from the same period in 2010); and benefits ($170,053,021, an increase of $28 million) over the year-ago period.
In fiscal 2011, the Commission filed 300 lawsuits that resulted in $91 million of relief, the third year in a row of increasing financial relief. The Commission also filed 261 “merits” or suits that include direct lawsuits and interventions alleging violations and legal action to enforce administrative settlements.
For public employees, the EEOC’s outreach and education programs reached approximately 540,000 persons.
For federal employees, where the EEOC has different enforcement obligations, the Commission resolved 7,672 hearing requests and secured more than $58 million in relief. It also resolved 4,510 appeals from final agency determinations.
According to EEOC, discrimination suits alleging retaliation (ie. Harassment and demotion), totaled 37,334 or 37.4% of all charges, closely followed by race discrimination allegations at 35,395 or 35.4%. Even though alleged racial and sex discrimination charges led the way in 2011, the number of charges actually declined from the previous year.
Separately, charges of disability and age discrimination increased in 2011, to 25,742 and 23,465, respectively.
The agency’s enforcement of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recorded the greatest increase in monetary relief all of the statutes: $103.4 million, up nearly 35.9%. The most frequently cited reasons under ADA are back impairments, followed by other orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.