Employment discrimination-related lawsuits are costly. In 2010, employees and former employees of private businesses filed 99,922 complaints with the EEOC. Total awards were in excess of $404 million, equating to an average of $4000 awarded per complaint. However, costs to a business owner are even higher when lawsuits are filed after EEOC review. Between legal costs, court costs and settlement fees, it’s not uncommon for an employer to pay more than $100,000 for one case of alleged discrimination. Another source puts that total even higher –at an average of $250,000 for defense and $200,000 awarded by the jury in a single claimant discrimination lawsuit.
Even more complaints were filed with the EEOC in 2011, a grand total of 99,947 in fact. While not a significant increase over 2011, it still represents a record number of complaint filings. If trends continue, 2012 complaint totals will be even higher. In order to reduce the chances of being the target of a discrimination lawsuit, business owners need to understand the purpose of the EEOC, what constitutes discrimination, and how to ensure their human resources personnel and management teams are following the letter of the law.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants and employees because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (if over 40), disability or genetic information. In addition, discriminating against an employee because of his or her discrimination compliant, filing of a discrimination charge, or participation in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit is also illegal. This type of discrimination falls under the category of retaliation. More than 37 percent of the complaints filed in 2011 were for retaliation. It’s the fastest growing discrimination category.
If you’re a business owner with at least 15 employees, EEOC laws cover you. The laws govern hiring, firing, promotion, training, harassment, and wages and benefits actions. Ensure your human resources personnel and management teams review these laws annually. According to the EEOC, many discrimination complaints could have been prevented it management had been trained on the laws, held accountable for their actions, and disciplined for not following the rules. Fact sheets covering each EEOC law may be downloaded in PDF form at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/index.cfm
Additionally, businesses are advised to foster a company culture in which employees feel comfortable approaching their supervisors with discrimination complaints. This gives the employer a chance to investigate and resolve the issue internally, avoiding potentially costly escalation to the EEOC.