The EEOC recently announced that it brought in a record $525 million of monetary awards in 2015. The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces federal labor laws that protect workers from discrimination. Among the laws that the EEOC enforces are Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC’s $525 million haul is a marked increase from the $390 million it received in 2014. The EEOC brought in this money through lawsuits, mediation, and settlements with employers it accused of violating federal employment laws. Its record haul is due in large part to its aggressive enforcement of these laws. “There is a growing awareness—across racial and ethnic lines—that we must do more as a country to address issues of equality,” the EEOC’s chairperson said in a statement. Indeed, over the last few years, the EEOC has markedly increased the number of lawsuits and legal proceedings it has brought against employers. Last year, it received $1 million+ settlements from major corporations such as BMW, Target, United Airlines, and Con Edison.
The EEOC’s aggressive enforcement of employment laws stems in part from an expanded definition of what constitutes a employment law violation. The EEOC has taken the position that discrimination based on sexual orientation and even gender identity constitute violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, positions that no court has yet to agree with. Despite this, the EEOC has continued to bring legal proceedings against employers accused of discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The EEOC will likely continue to aggressively pursue its expanded interpretation of employment law protections until at least the end of the Obama Administration in January 2017. The President has made it clear that rooting out discrimination in the workplace is a priority, and that he will support federal agencies taking aggressive positions to achieve that goal.
Therefore, employers better take note: the EEOC is watching. Employers should review employee handbooks and workplace discrimination policies to be sure that they comply with the EEOC’s expanded interpretation of federal employment law. They should consider implementing workplace training sessions to promote awareness of the myriad of employment laws that govern workplace activities and protect workers’ rights. We suggest that employers consult an experienced attorney for a review of their workplace policies to ensure that they will not run afoul of the EEOC.