The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment/sexual assault story broke almost exactly one year ago—followed by story after story of harassment from the drive through lanes of fast-food restaurants to the c-suites of major corporations. The unanswered question was, would this increase in visibility translate into more discrimination charges being filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC)? The answer—in a word—YES.
The EEOC fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) coincided this past year with this heightened awareness and scrutiny. The EEOC keeps detailed data sets on the types of charges that are filed, whether those charges result in a “reasonable cause finding” (i.e. here the EEOC determines that based on the evidence adduced, there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred), whether lawsuits are eventually filed, and the damages that the EEOC has recovered for victims of discrimination through enforcement proceedings and litigation. While the final numbers are not yet in, the preliminary analysis of the numbers shows a stark trend:
- Sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC increased by more than 12% over the prior fiscal year;
- Reasonable cause findings increased from 970 to almost 1,200—a year over year increase of more than 50%;
- There was a year over year increase of 43% in successful conciliation proceedings of “for cause” cases, up from 348 to nearly 500 cases;
- The EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through administrative proceedings and litigation—a year over year increase of $22.5 million;
- The EEOC filed 41 “agency” lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in a coordinated filing over all the EEOC Districts- a more than 50% increase over the prior year.
What is next for employers? Well, it is certain that this issue is gaining traction and the increased scrutiny of the EEOC will continue. The EEOC completed a revised Guidance on harassment which is awaiting approval and implementation by the administration. The EEOC has also launched a new form of training called “Respectful Workplaces” that focuses on teaching employees how to engage in a respectful manner, including helping employees to understand how they can step in to prevent or de-escalate problematic behavior in the workplace. Some of the EEOC’s recommendations to employers are listed in “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment” (https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/promising-practices.cfm), which include the commitment of senior leadership, an effective and comprehensive harassment policy, an effective and accessible complaint system, and effective harassment training.
Employers can expect that this issue will continue to gain traction both with employees and with the EEOC. It is a good time to take a 360-degree look—where does your business stand with respect to prevention? Do you have appropriate policies? Do you undertake any training? How do you handle complaints when made? For help with these and other issues, contact the Employment Lawyers at Drewry Simmons Vornehm LLP.