Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2016 Saw a Record Number of EEOC Complaints by LGBT Employees

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a record number of complaints from LGBT employees last year, according to data recently released by that agency. The Commission, which enforces federal employment laws, has been arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, prohibits discrimination against LGBT employees. While this position has been largely rejected by the courts, the EEOC  continues to maintain it.

EEOC data shows that the Commission received 1,768 charges of discrimination from LGBT employees, a 25% increase over 2015 and an over 100% increase from 2013. The EEOC attributes the increase in the claims it has received to greater awareness by employees of how the Commission can aid them in actions against their employers.

The EEOC data also shows that the total number of charges it received in 2016 was up by about 2%, from 89,385 to 91,503. This is down for its peak of nearly 100,000 in 2011. Despite this, the EEOC recovered a record $525 million from employers in 2015. It recovered a little bit less in 2016 at $482 million.

It will be interesting to see what direction the Commission will take during the Trump Administration. The new Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, is much friendlier to business than the outgoing Labor Secretary, Thomas Perez. President Trump has also said repeatedly that he plans to roll back regulations on business, so it seems likely that the EEOC will go easier on employers during the next four years. It also seems likely that the Commission will revise its interpretation of federal employment statutes, likely bringing them in line with the courts, which have generally held that federal employment laws do not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, which includes many LGBT issues. Notably, though, the 7th Circuit has agreed to rehear this issue.

Regardless of whether or not federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBT employees, employers should not engage in the practice. Many states, including Illinois, have prohibited this discrimination. Moreover, it seems like only a matter of time before a federal law is passed that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Contact us if you would like us to help you put together an anti-discrimination plan.