The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will prioritize using its enforcement power to address, among other things, employment barriers caused by technology; discrimination against vulnerable workers; and protecting workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth and similar medical conditions, the agency announced Sept. 21.
Those priorities are fleshed out in EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2024 to 2028, which featured a list of items mostly unchanged from the draft plan published earlier this year. EEOC finalized the plan two months after the U.S. Senate confirmation of Commissioner Kalpana Kotagal, which restored a 3-2 Democratic majority at the agency.
In a press release, EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows credited public input from the commission’s 2022 listening sessions — two of which were held in person in Buffalo, New York, and Washington, D.C. — with aiding development of the enforcement plan.
“Through the SEP’s effective implementation, the agency will continue to advance equality and justice for all in workplaces across this nation, even as significant challenges remain,” Burrows said.
The elimination of barriers in employers’ recruitment and hiring practices is at the top of EEOC’s subject matter priorities. The agency said it is particularly focused on the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to perform tasks like job advertisement targeting and making or assisting in hiring decisions, “where such systems intentionally exclude or adversely impact protected groups.”
That follows up on commentary from several commissioners on the rise of automatic decision-making technologies and concerns that those tools may perpetuate harmful stereotypes and prejudices towards diverse applicant groups, including Black workers and other workers of color.
EEOC also said it is focusing on harassment, retaliation and other forms of employment discrimination against vulnerable workers and underrepresented communities. The agency included several demographic groups under this definition, such as immigrant and migrant workers; workers with disabilities; LGTBQ individuals; older workers; and workers with arrest or conviction records.
The commission’s 2023 enforcement efforts have produced several settlements in line with these goals. Of note are two multimillion-dollar settlements over age discrimination allegations against pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and a $1.2 million settlement of racial harassment and retaliation claims facing construction contractor Whiting-Turner.
Other priorities include advancing equal pay practices, addressing barriers to the legal system for workers facing workplace discrimination — including by focusing on overly broad waivers, nondisclosure agreements and nondisparagement agreements — and preventing and remedying systemic harassment.
Pregnant workers and workers affected by childbirth and related medical conditions are among the emerging issues EEOC said it is watching; the commission recently published and opened public comment on its proposed regulations for implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.