The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. The laws that govern the field of anti-discrimination include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act.
Each year, the EEOC publishes a report showing the number of charges made for each category of discrimination. The report also discloses, as a percentage, how the number of charges in each category relates to the total number of discrimination charges for the calendar year.
The report disclosing the workplace discrimination charges for the year 2015 are as follows:
- Race: 34.7%
- Sex: 29.5%
- National Origin: 10.6%
- Religion: 3.9%
- Color: 3.2%
- Total Retaliation Charges: 44.5%
- Title VII Retaliation Charges: 35.7%
- Age: 22.5%
- Disability: 30.2%
- Equal Pay Act: 1.1%
- Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act: 0.3%
Since most charges filed with the EEOC involve multiple types of discrimination, the total percentage of claims exceeds 100%.
The numbers for 2015 alone do not provide much meaningful information. However, comparing this data with the percentages from the previous 20 years reveals that retaliation charges are at their highest rate in history. Total retaliation charges have increased from 29.5% of all charges in 2005 to 44.5% of all charges last year. Meanwhile Title VII retaliation has increased from 25.8% to 35.7% over the past ten years. It is also worth noting that disability discrimination charges are also at their highest rate, climbing from 19.7% to 30.2% since 2005.
The growing national concern over retaliation claims should cause employers to be more cautious when acting upon employees who have previously filed a charge against the employer. Employers often mistakenly try to remedy a previous issue by changing the employee’s terms and conditions in a manner adverse to the employee, invoking a retaliation charge.
For example, if an employee files a sexual harassment claim, the employer may try to fix the situation by moving the employee to a new area or department. If that change puts the employee in an area or department less desirable than the previous one, the employer may have unintentionally committed unlawful retaliation.
Once an employee has filed a charge, employers should be careful not to treat the employee any different than before the charge was filed, except to remedy the previous circumstances in a way that favors the employee. The sharp rise in retaliation claims is clear evidence that this is not a situation that employers can continue to avoid.