Daily Labor Report, 2/2/07

EEOC 2006 Yearly Benefits Drop Sharply at EEOC; Charge Filings Edge Up After Three-Year Dip

Benefits reaped by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for victims of job discrimination dropped sharply during fiscal year 2006, according to data compiled by the civil rights enforcement agency and made available to BNA Feb. 1.

The total financial benefits for individuals who experienced discrimination were approximately $274 million, including nearly $230 million obtained at the administrative level and $44.3 million through litigation. A year earlier, the agency obtained approximately $378 million, down from a recordbreaking $415 million in fiscal 2004 (28 DLR A-10, 2/10/06).

Commission officials cited cutbacks in agency personnel and resources and observed that one large monetary settlement--such as the $54 million sex discrimination accord with Morgan Stanley or the $50 million race and sex discrimination settlement with Abercrombie & Fitch in recent years—will have a significant impact on the agency's bottom line benefits.

"It's the luck of the calendar," Nicholas Inzeo, director of the office of field programs, told BNA. While EEOC attorneys filed approximately the same number of lawsuits last year and resolved 383 on the merits—nearly 50 more than a year earlier--"we didn't have the good fortune of a really large resolution," he observed.


Charges Edged Up

The commission received nearly 75,800 charges of discrimination during the federal government's fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2006. The number of charge filings edged up from last year, when 75,400 charges were filed, showing the first increase in charge filings since fiscal 2002, when the agency received 84,400 charges.

Race continued to be the most commonly asserted type of discrimination, alleged in 27,238 of the charges, followed by sex discrimination (23,247), and retaliation (22,555). Other frequently cited allegations were disability discrimination (15,625), and age discrimination (13,569).

Allegations of national origin discrimination were asserted in 8,327 charges and of religious discrimination in 2,541.

With the exception of a drop-off in age discrimination charges and of charges filed under the Equal Pay Act (which constitute a small percentage of the agency's charge inventory), all of the charge categories edged up from a year earlier.

Along with the increase in charge filings, the inventory of pending charges and the amount of time EEOC employees took to process the charges also continued an upward trend that has been going on for several years.

The average time for processing a charge was 193 days during the last fiscal year, 171 days in fiscal 2005, and 165 days in fiscal 2004. The inventory of pending cases was nearly 40,000, up from 33,500 a year earlier.


Merit Rate, Mediations Increase

The commission resolved some 50,600 charges in fiscal 2006--down significantly from the 77,300 a year earlier and 85,000 the year before that. Inzeo attributed the drop-off in part to the decreased size of the commission's workforce. The numbers "reflect that we have fewer investigators and mediators," he said, adding that the agency hopes to fill some of those vacancies shortly.

"Productivity remains very high" among EEOC personnel, he added.

EEOC found "merit" in 22.2 percent of the resolved charges--"an historically high rate," according to the agency--although in actual numbers, the merit resolutions decreased from 16,614 in fiscal 2005 to 16,510 last year. The merit rate generally hovers around 20 percent and was down to 19.5 percent in fiscal 2005.

Included in the charge resolutions were 8,200 that were resolved through the commission's alternate resolution dispute program--a number that has continued to grow since the commission began offering to mediate charges several years ago. A year earlier, the agency mediated nearly 8,000 charges.

The average charge processing time through the voluntary system is much less than the traditional system and was just over three months, a commission official said.


Litigation Activity Stable

Commission attorneys filed 371 direct suits and interventions last year—in the same range as the past three years.

Among the suits that were filed, 137 were brought on behalf of a class or on behalf of similarly situated persons challenging an alleged discriminatory practice. The number of these cases increased from 124 in both fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2004. In April 2006, commissioners approved an initiative calling for an increased emphasis on these "systemic" discrimination cases both at the administrative and investigation stages and in litigation.

Among the suits that were filed, the largest number of cases--294—were brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. EEOC attorneys also filed 42 cases under the Americans with Disabilities Act and 50 under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.


Union: 'A Failing Report Card.'

The union representing EEOC employees, the National Council of EEOC Locals 216, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees, called the agency's year-end fiscal report "a failing report card."

Union president Gabrielle Martin, a trial attorney in EEOC's Denver office, said that officials were "absolutely right," in acknowledging that the increased inventory and charge processing time was the result of lower personnel levels and less funding. But she added that the agency "strangled EEOC's workforce" through a hiring freeze, buy-out, and early-out offers, and by taking "affirmative steps" to decrease the number of staffers.

"The agency has not used its resources efficiently," Martin told BNA, adding that the union was "asking for and encouraging" more oversight of EEOC's operations by House and Senate committees.

Fiscal 2005 enforcement and litigation statistics are posted on EEOC's Web site, http://www.eeoc.gov.



By Nancy Montwieler