Every year, the EEOC releases its enforcement and litigation report outlining statistics about the previous year’s anti-employment discrimination progress. This report is key for employees and litigators seeking more information about trends in the employment litigation realm. It covers an EEOC fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30.  This year’s report, released in early February, contains detailed information about the monetary gains, top discrimination charges, most pressing issues and merit lawsuits filed in 2013.

A Good Year for Monetary Recovery

2013 was a good year for EEOC monetary recoveries. The agency helped employees recover 6.7 million more dollars than in 2012.  A total of 372.1 million dollars in settlement funds and remedies was awarded, the highest in agency history.

Top Discrimination Charges

Aside from state Fair Employment Protection Agencies (FEPAs), the EEOC is the only agency where employees are required by law to file employment discrimination charges. This means the information reflected in EEOC reports grants an accurate and reliable depiction of the state of workplace discrimination in America.

Last year, employees filed a total of 93,727 discrimination charges with the EEOC. Such large numbers are quite common. In fact, charge totals have not dipped below 95,000 for the past five years. The agency is likely to continue this trend of charge escalation well into the next decade. Still, the year 2013 saw a decrease in discrimination charges, 5.7 percent less than in 2012.

Retaliation was the top discrimination charge last year. This may come as no surprise, as it has been the number one charge for several years. Title VII as well as other employment discrimination laws contain provisions prohibiting retaliation in cases of employment discrimination. This is to prevent employers from taking adverse action against employees involved in employment discrimination complaints and proceedings.

The next most active employment discrimination charge was race discrimination. Last year, there were 33,068 cases of race discrimination, a decrease from last year’s numbers. However, the charge type took a larger percentage of charges overall at 35% which is an increase of 4% from last year.

Sex discrimination charges also figured prominently in the reports. These charges made up 29.5% of overall discrimination charges with 27,687 cases reported. These include discrimination based on sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Most Pressing Issues

The presentation within the reports was slightly more expansive than last year. This year, the publication enabled viewers to analyze discrimination charges by issue. In other words, we are now able to better understand whether hiring or discharge is more of an issue in employment discrimination cases. According to the report, discharge was the most cited issue in 2013 followed by terms and conditions of employment and harassment.

EEOC Merit Lawsuits in 2013

Merit lawsuits in 2013 were at 131 total, 209 of which were resolved favorably resulting in remedies totaling $39 million. Merit lawsuits are cases filed based on the rights of the employees rather than the technicalities of the case. Title VII merit cases topped the list, with Americans with Disabilities cases not far behind. The number of merit lawsuits increased by 9 cases beyond the amount brought in 2012. The largest number of merit cases was 261 filed in 2011.

All This, Despite Restrictions

The reports show the EEOC fared well last year. This, in spite of significant impediments caused by the end of the year government shutdown. Furloughs caused work to be put on hold as Congress attempted to work out its differences. For three weeks, the agencies enforcement activities were suspended and a hiring freeze meant no new hires during the shutdown.

EEOC Focus and Trends

In past years, the EEOC has sharpened its focus narrowing its points of interests to a few choice issues outlined in special reports and updates. In 2013, the agency showed a special interest in ADA cases as well as sex discrimination cases. In particular, pregnancy discrimination was at the top of the focus.

This is outlined in the 2013 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), in which the agency expressed goals that would bring “challenges to patterns or practices of refusing to hire applicants based on their race or sex, criminal record policies that the EEOC contends disproportionately screen out African American applicants, pre-offer medical inquiry and examination policies that violate the ADA or GINA, reductions in force that target older workers, and unequal pay practices.”

The goal of the SEP is to focus agency efforts for “sustainable” impact in decreasing discriminatory acts across the nation. Specifically, the SEP outlined six key areas of focus for the 2013 fiscal year:

  1. Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring
  2. Protecting immigrant migrant and other vulnerable workers
  3. Addressing emergent and developing issues (including new legislation, judicial decisions and administrative interpretations)
  4. Enforcing equal pay laws
  5. Preserving Access to the legal system
  6. Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach

The SEP goals are also meant to integrate and coordinate EEOC efforts in all three of its targeted sectors – private public and federal. This targeted and integrated approach is an attempt to meet ever growing demands in the face of limited resources. Employment discrimination cases have risen in the past decade, while funding dropped nearly 30 percent between 2000 and 2008, and the agency experience hiring freezes and cutbacks in 2011 and 2012. The SEP is part of a larger measure, the Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016, approved by the Commission in February of 2012.

Increasing Charges, Limited Resources

Though employment discrimination charges decreased by nearly 6 percent in 2013, the prevailing trend is an escalating number of charges streaming into an agency with limited resources and struggling with recent government setbacks. The SEP outlines targeted measures aimed at integrating EEOC efforts to further its mission to eliminate discrimination from the workplace. Workers can expect focused protection from the EEOC especially in areas concerning Title VII, disability, sex and pregnancy discrimination.