The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is tasked by the U.S. Congress with enforcing federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination but a recent analysis of EEOC complaints from 1997 to 2018 demonstrates how little the EEOC actually does with respect to enforcing those laws.
The analysis was conducted by Paychex, Inc., a Rochester, NY – based company that provides payroll, human resource, and benefit outsourcing services to small and medium sized businesses.
The Paychex data indicates the EEOC failed to failed to find discrimination in 87 percent of the almost 1.9 million cases filed by discrimination victims over the 21-year-period.
The EEOC found no reasonable cause for discrimination in 64.3 percent of cases, closed 18.3 percent for administrative reasons and 4.8 percent were withdrawn by the charging party. The EEOC found reasonable cause for discrimination in only 4.6 percent of complaints and considered filing a lawsuit in only 3.2 percent of complaints.
Annual statistics from the EEOC show that its percentage of reasonable cause determinations has declined considerably in recent years, from a high of 9.9 percent in 2001. The EEOC found reasonable cause in only 3.5 percent of complaints in 2018; 2.9 percent in 2017, and; 3.2 percent in 2016.
Congress, in adopting federal anti-discrimination laws, required discrimination victims to file a complaint first with the EEOC before they could proceed to federal court. Congress’ goal was to encourage employers’ voluntary compliance with discrimination laws, rather than forcing compliance on employers through litigation. However, Paychex’ analysis, and others like it, raise troubling questions.
Does the formula devised by Congress fifty years ago, when it passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, actually work ?
How can the EEOC be seen to encourage employers to comply with federal discrimination laws when it imposes so few sanctions upon employers that violate the law?
But the problem goes deeper. Once the EEOC has determined there is no reasonable cause for discrimination, the EEOC sends complainants a “right to sue” letter. By that time, many workers are disillusioned by the EEOC’s dismissive handling of their complaint and considerable time has lapsed since the discriminatory event. The EEOC’s administrative process may actually discourage workers from taking discriminatory employers to court.
The 21-year-retrospective of EEOC complaint handling ultimately raises a question about whether the “system” is working to protect discrimination victims or is it, instead, helping to shield discriminatory employers from the consequences of violating federal civil rights laws?
Requests for comment on this article from the EEOC and EEOC Commissioner Janet Dhillon went unanswered.
It has been noted the EEOC has had the same budget, when adjusted for inflation, since 1980. The EEOC received an additional $16 million from Congress last year due to an increase in sexual harassment complaints stemming from the “#Me Too” movement. However, it is clear that Congress has failed to provide sufficient funding and oversight of the EEOC to promote fair and effective enforcement of America’s civil rights laws.
The Paychex analysis sheds light on other aspects of the EEOC complaint process. For example, Paychex found regional variations in complaint filings, with the South leading the way. Complaints of discrimination and bias in the workplace were highest in Alabama (62.2 complaints per 100,000 residents), Mississippi (60.8), Arkansas (51.7), and Georgia (50.3). The states with the fewest discrimination complaints were Maine (2.5), Montana (2.6), New Hampshire (4) and Nebraska (4.3).
Among individual states, sex discrimination was the top charge for every state except Connecticut, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Dakota, where age discrimination was the top charge.
Some types of discrimination complaints were more successful than others. According to Paychex, the percentage of successful resolutions per type of discrimination complaints over the 21-year-period was:
- Equal pay, 22.1 percent;
- Sex, 19.9 percent;
- Religion, 18.2 percent;
- National origin, 17.2 percent;
- Age, 16.2 percent, and;
- Color/race, 15.6 percent.
The highest per complaint payout in these categories went to the 5,138 equal pay cases, which yielded an average of $30,600. The lowest per complaint payout went to the 118,870 color/race- based complaints, which yielded an average of $14,900.