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Nearly a year ago the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) approved its Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012 – 2016 establishing priorities and integrating components of EEOC’s private, public, and federal sector enforcement. The purpose of the plan is to focus and coordinate the EEOC’s programs to have a “sustainable impact in reducing and deterring discriminatory practices in the workplace,” the commission announced.
But is the plan having an impact on the day-to-day activity of the agency’s various district offices? Not yet, one commentator says―the activity of these offices does not match up with the publicly announced national strategy.
According to the Dec. 17, 2012, EEOC press release announcing the strategy adoption, “Integrated enforcement uses a range of strategies from among the EEOC’s tools, including investigations, litigation, federal sector oversight and adjudication, policy development, research, and outreach and education,”
The agency adopted the following national priorities:
Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring. The EEOC will target class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities.
Protecting Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers. The EEOC will target disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking and discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under the equal employment laws, or reluctant or unable to exercise them.
Addressing Emerging and Developing Issues. The EEOC will target emerging issues in equal employment law, including issues associated with significant events, demographic changes, developing theories, new legislation, judicial decisions and administrative interpretations.
Enforcing Equal Pay Laws. The EEOC will target compensation systems and practices that discriminate based on gender.
Preserving Access to the Legal System. The EEOC will target policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts.
Preventing Harassment Through Systematic Enforcement and Targeted Outreach. The EEOC will pursue systematic investigations and litigation and conduct a targeted outreach campaign to deter harassment in the workplace.
“The national priorities … will be complemented by district and federal sector priorities, recognizing that particular issues most salient to these communities also demand focused attention,” the EEOC added.
However, as reported in Law360® , the EEOC’s litigation practices demonstrate the agency may have veered away from its national priorities. More than a third of the lawsuits filed by EEOC seek to enforce disability, sex and pregnancy discrimination claims.
“What this means to me is the EEOC is still a highly decentralized agency and that the authority to bring lawsuits is still very much with the various district offices,” Christopher J. DeGroff of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, told Law360. “That’s the way it has been for a number of years now. It was a little surprising to have these national priorities and not match up.”
October’s settlements and new suits announced by EEOC are indicative of the pre-strategy activity. A community health system paid $30,000 to settle sex discrimination claims, while another hospital was sued on similar grounds. A chain of stores settled disability discrimination claims for $47,000, a trucking company was sued for such claims, while another company paid $130,000 in a disability discrimination action.
Is this trend continuing or is it a matter of the activity catching up with the strategy?
DeGroff and his colleagues Gerald L. Maatman Jr. and Lily M. Strumwasser believe the EEOC litigation in 2014 will be better aligned with the commission’s strategy. “The way that the money is distributed among the district offices has to do with how successful that office is,” DeGroff told Law360. Forty-five percent of the 134 lawsuits filed in Fiscal Year 2013 were brought by district offices in Chicago, Philadelphia and Charlotte, which may signal a trend in EEOC’s district-level budget allocations.
“The fact that those offices were able to file this many lawsuits, it could be that either they are hoping for more budget allocation or in fact received a higher budget allocation last year. I don’t know where in that cart and horse game they fall,” DeGroff said.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual sources referenced and do not reflect the views, opinions or policies of the organizations the sources represent.