The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued its strategic plan on February 22. A copy of the Plan can be found here. Although the EEOC outlined three major goals, only one raised my eyebrows out of concern for employers. One of the EEOC’s top priorities this year is to increase the number of systemic discrimination lawsuits it pursues against employers. What this means for employers is that the EEOC will be pursuing claims based on practices, policies or class cases where the alleged discrimination has a broad impact on the industry, occupation, business, or geographic area.
My read on this is that the EEOC is trying to get the most mileage out of its litigation pursuits. By targeting a practice or representing a group of individuals, the EEOC can pursue a single action, but assist a potentially large number of individuals. And, if the class is large and the threat severe, the EEOC may be able to negotiate large settlements or pursue large verdicts. Both of these results would garner news coverage and broaden the EEOC’s message.
The types of practice that the EEOC will likely target may involve claims that employers favor younger employees over older employees, employers enforce leave policies that make it difficult for employees to pursue disability accommodations or FMLA leave, or compensation plans that limit the advancement of women or minorities.
Employers need to continue to be vigilant in responding to charges of discrimination. And now employers will have to consider whether the charge is the first chess move in a much larger game sought to challenge the employer’s practice or procedures.