- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed 66 harassment lawsuits so far this year, according to preliminary data from the agency, including 41 suits specifically alleging sexual harassment. That amounts to a more than 50% year-over-year increase in sexual harassment-specific suits compared to fiscal year 2017 figures, EEOC said.
- Additionally, sexual harassment charges filed with EEOC increased by more than 12% year-over-year, with reasonable cause findings and successful conciliations also up from 2017 totals. The agency recovered $70 million total for employees alleging sexual harassment, up from $47.5 million last year.
- Additionally, the number of hits to the agency's sexual harassment webpage also more than doubled in the past year. EEOC said it conducted more than 1,000 outreach events for more than 115,000 individuals and employers on the topic of harassment alone.
HR executives may not be exactly surprised to see numbers this drastic, but EEOC's preliminary figures do help put a full year of the #MeToo movement — which has swept through workplaces, schools, social media and just about every public space one can think of — into perspective.
For Barry Hartstein, attorney and co-chair of Littler Mendelson's EEO & diversity practice, the report signals two things: 1) employees are "more emboldened" in the current climate to report harassment, and are looking to the EEOC as a result; and 2) the EEOC's emphasis on sexual harassment litigation has only continued, shortly after a public commitment by the agency to do so last summer.
"Based on its recent actions, aside from the EEOC's June 2016 Task Force Report on the Study of Harassment, which preceded the flurry of events involving Harvey Weinstein and others, the EEOC has continued to stay ahead of the curve in addressing harassment in the workplace," Hartstein said in a statement emailed to HR Dive.
Earlier this year, EEOC officials indicated that the commission hadn't seen a spike in complaints. It was at a hearing in June that commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic said that, anecdotally, internal company complaints had risen instead. An analysis of EEOC filings by attorneys at Seyfarth Shaw showed that a ramp-up in EEOC court filings occurred in the summer months of June, July and August, which saw 63 cases filed. It filed another 84 lawsuits in September alone. The same analysis showed Title VII claims were the largest category of 2018 EEOC filings at 55%, with sex-based discrimination accounting for 74% of those Title VII filings.
This may be an indication, Epstein Becker Green attorney David Garland previously wrote for HR Dive, that employers should be aware of the increased likelihood of sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment charges in the current climate. Employers may need to take stock of all aspects of their internal process for dealing with harassment, including reporting, handbook composition and investigatory measures.