Understanding the EEOC's 2010 Performance and Accountability Report

January 10, 2011

By: James Holahan

Sensibly, the EEOC does not make any effort to conceal its enforcement “playbook.” To the contrary, it publishes an annual Performance and Accountability Report so that employers and other stakeholders will have a better understanding of how the agency has used, and intends to use, its financial and human resources. The 2010 Performance and Accountability Report, released in mid-November 2010, contains the EEOC’s assessment of its performance as the federal agency with the broadest responsibility for enforcing the civil rights laws. Based on information contained in the report, a few general observations about the direction of the Agency can be made.

1. The EEOC’s Financial and Human Resources Continue To Grow.

For fiscal year 2010, the EEOC received a $367.3 million appropriation (a 7% annual increase). Most of this increased funding was used to add personnel. EEOC employed 2,385 FTE employees during 2010 (an 11% increase since 2007) and plans to grow its work force by 8% in 2011 to 2,577 FTE employees. More resources and more employees should result in more aggressive enforcement efforts by the EEOC.

2.  Greater Resources Will Enhance EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Initiative.

In April, 2006, the EEOC launched a program designed to identify, investigate, and litigate “systemic cases” – cases involving an allegedly discriminatory pattern, practice, or policy which has a broad impact on an industry, profession, company, or geographic location. This systemic initiative is one of the EEOC’s top priorities, because such cases affect large numbers of individuals.

At the close of fiscal year 2010, the EEOC was conducting 465 systemic investigations, involving more than 2,000 charges, and had completed work on 165 systemic investigations – resulting in 29 settlements or conciliation agreements that recovered $6.7 million. Systemic cases are highly complex and require greater resources (for example, expert analysis by statisticians, industrial psychologists, and labor market economists). As a result, it is likely that the EEOC will devote a substantial portion of its expanding resources and staff to its systemic initiative. The message for employers is simple. Review your written employment policies and your unwritten employment practices to insure compliance with recent changes in the law.

3.   Employers Should Seriously Consider The EEOC’s Mediation Program.

Despite its expanding resources and personnel, the EEOC has continued to struggle to meet its time target for resolving private sector discrimination charges. During fiscal year 2010, only 38.3% of the private sector charges filed with the EEOC were resolved in less than 180 days - substantially less than the EEOC’s 2010 target (48%) and much worse than its performance in 2005 (66%). In fact, the Office of Inspector General has identified the continued rise in private-sector charge inventory as one of the most significant management challenges facing the EEOC. In its defense, however, EEOC did receive a record number of discrimination charges during fiscal year 2010 (99,922).

Delays in investigating and making a determination on pending discrimination charges can have a significant monetary impact on employers. Considering that the standard remedy for disparate treatment discrimination is back pay and benefits, an employer’s potential financial exposure escalates during the time that a discrimination charge is pending before the EEOC. For that reason, an employer defending a discrimination charge should seriously consider using the EEOC’s mediation program – which has earned praise from both charging parties and employers. Indeed, during fiscal year 2010, 96.7% of all participants reported that they would use the EEOC’s mediation program in the future. Participating in the EEOC’s mediation program might produce a timely and successful resolution and will not derail or substantially delay the EEOC’s investigative process should mediation not prove successful.

A version of this post was previously published in the Rochester Business Alliance, Regional Chamber of Commerce Newsletter for January/February 2011.