According to records released in February by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency had its lowest year in terms of monetary recovery since 1997 and other key numbers were also significantly lower. While there are a number of explanations offered for this reduction, including from the EEOC and employment attorneys, one explanation that is not getting mentioned is the role that employers and HR professionals have in this reduction. In this regard, HR professionals are increasingly aware of compliance issues and often proactively intervene when employment law compliance strays off the tracks.
EEOC 2014 Numbers
Going back to the EEOC’s numbers for fiscal year 2014:
- The EEOC won the lowest monetary penalty since 1997;
- Went 0-2 in jury trials; and
- Filed half as many new lawsuits as it did a decade before.
To add further context to these numbers, EEOC lawyers filed 167 suits during fiscal year 2014. In contrast between 1997 and 2011, the EEOC filed an average of 370 lawsuits a year. Further, during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s administration, the EEOC obtained an average payout of $91 million per year as compared to just $22.5 million for 2014.
The EEOC notes that the drop in numbers was due in part to the government shutdown during the reporting period. Also, the National Law Journal, “Steep Drop in EEOC Lawsuits, by Jenna Greene, offers a number of other explanations for the 2014 drops as explained EEOC representatives and other employment attorneys.
Drop in Numbers Encouraging But Not a Reason to Get Lazy
The drop in 2014 numbers is encouraging, but employers shouldn’t get lazy in guarding against employment discrimination and other EEOC charges. For starters, there were still 88,778 charges of workplace discrimination filed with the EEOC.
Second, 2015 is shaping up to be a better year for the EEOC, at least according to the EEOC General Counsel, P. David Lopez. He notes that the agency is on track to post stronger results in 2015. Bolstering this conclusion, it is important to note that the EEOC has already won four of five jury trials to date.
Decline in HR Claims and the Role of HR
Going back to the National Law Journal’s article, a number of employment attorneys and EEOC representatives offer explanations for the 2014 drop in EEOC numbers. And certainly those explanations make sense and are likely to be a part of the lager narrative. But an equally important chapter in that narrative that is often overlooked is the increased sophistication and vigilance by HR professionals in with state and federal employment laws.
Our experience is that HR professionals are often on top of compliance matters and quick to identify issues in their infancy. In fact and without going into specifics of client matters, in the last quarter, we’ve had a number of opportunities to work closely with our business clients’ HR point person and in those instances the level of competency and attention to detail likely saved the company from becoming the wrong kind of EEOC statistic. And (obviously) by being on top of the compliance side of employment laws, it means a company is going to increase the chance of successfully defending against an EEOC charge.
For more information about complying with federal or Michigan employment laws, as well as responding to an EEOC charge of investigation, contact employment attorney Jason Shinn.