The EEOC Veered Sharply Away from Litigation in 2016

In 2016, the EEOC filed 34% fewer lawsuits than it filed in 2015, and there were drastic declines in some areas, notably an 85.7% decline in age discrimination lawsuits.

This is not good news for victims of discrimination in employment. Without the gravity and resources of the EEOC behind them, many individual discrimination victims are puny “Davids” facing international corporate “Goliaths.”

It appears the steep litigation decline – from 174 lawsuits in 2015 to 114 in 2016 –  is the result of the EEOC’s new emphasis on resolving individual complaints through voluntary mediation. However, mediation is a far better deal for employers than workers. For employers, mediation is a form of free dispute resolution that gets the EEOC off their back and eliminates the risk of massive damages and fees in a jury trial. For workers, mediation generally results in a modest financial settlement at best.

Many workers, especially those without counsel, do not fully understand their rights and the employer’s potential liability, or they cannot realistically fight for their rights because they have no money to wage a protracted court battle.

Mediation is a far better deal for discriminatory employers than it is for discrimination victims.

Here are the types and number of lawsuits filed by the EEOC in 2016 compared to 2015 and the percentage increase/decrease.

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; Two lawsuits in 2016, compared to 14 in 2015 (a decrease of 85.7%).
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act  of 1964 (race, sex, religion, color and national origin): 46 lawsuits in 2016 compared to 83 in 2015 (a decrease of 44.5%).
  • Americans with Disability Act: 36 lawsuits in 2016 compared to 53 in 2015 (a decrease of 32%).
  • Equal Pay Act: Five lawsuits in 2016 compared to 7 in 2015 (a decrease of 28%).
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination  Act  Two lawsuits in 2016 compared to one in 2015 (an increase of 50%).

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Taxpayers Subsidize Age Discrimination by Feds

It is ironic that our nation’s largest employer, the U.S. government, is one of the worst offenders with respect to age discrimination in hiring.

President Barack Obama in 2010 unilaterally signed an executive order that allows federal agencies to by-pass older workers, ignore merit and qualifications, and to hire “recent graduates” and “entry-level jobseekers” for permanent federal jobs. Since the vast majority of recent graduates and entry-lvel job seekers are under the age of 40, Obama’s order has an obvious discriminatory impact on older workers. Yet, there was no public outcry when Obama signed this order – not from the AARP or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Obama couched his action in terms of increasing diversity in federal hiring but he offered no evidence that it was necessary to resort to age discrimination, which is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Obama’s order operates as an exemption to the ADEA. Furthermore, Obama’s order discriminates against older African Americans and Hispanics, as well as older whites.

Not surprisingly, older applicants face a mountain of discrimination when applying for lucrative federal positions.

James W. Moeller, then 57, filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit last year after he applied for several positions an attorney at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FEC) in Washington, DC. He was never  granted an interview despite the fact that he is a Harvard Law School graduate with 30 years of federal energy regulatory experience.  Moeller has represented clients before the FEC, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Maryland Public Service Commission. He is a leading scholar on federal energy regulatory law, having published numerous scholarly articles on the topic.

Meanwhile, the FEC granted interviews to younger, less qualified applicants, who were subsequently hired.

How come a guy like Moeller who objectively has superb qualifications could not even get an interview with the FEC? Could it be … uh … age discrimination?

Moeller’s  lawsuit states the FEC “claims that it cannot discriminate on the basis of age because it has no knowledge of the ages of its job applicants. This claim is based on the fact that job applicants generally do not include their dates of birth on their resumes.”  Moeller argues – and basic common sense dictates – that employers can infer the age of a job applicant based upon the applicant’s job history.

It is arguably a much greater failing for the federal government to discriminate against older workers because  we are shareholders in the enterprise through our tax dollars. In addition, discrimination by the federal government sends a signal to the private sector that age discrimination is acceptable and will be tolerated.

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I explore other ways in which all three branches of the federal government have overlooked, abetted and trivialized age discrimination in employment. I also show how the ADEA provides far less protection for older workers than is provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to workers on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color and religion.

*See Moeller v. Bay, Case No, 1:15-cv-00724 (2015) U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Roadmap to Stop Harassment in the Workplace

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Fox CEO Roger Ailes, it is worth reviewing how to handle the problem of  harassment in the workplace.

Ailes, 76,was recently forced out of his position at the television network that he helped found because of complaints of sexual harassment that allegedly dated back for decades.

The EEOC created a select task force in January 2015 to study the general problem of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The task force, which included experts from around the country, issued a report last month recommending that employers actively promote an organizational culture of respect and civility.

The task force recommended:

  •  Employers should have a comprehensive anti-harassment policy that prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations.
  • The anti-harassment policy should include details about how to complain of  and how to report harassment, must be communicated frequently to employees, in a variety of forms and methods.
  • Employers should provide reporting procedures that are multi-faceted, offering a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, and geographic and organizational diversity where possible, for an employee to report harassment.
  • Employers should be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and should take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur.
  • Employers should periodically “test” their reporting system to determine how well the system is working.
  • Employers should devote enough resources to insure that workplace investigations are prompt, objective, and thorough. Investigations should be kept as confidential as possible, recognizing that complete confidentiality or anonymity will not always be attainable.

Specific details about the report are available on the EEOC web site.

Almost a third of the 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, including charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion. And that is the tip of the iceberg. The EEOC reports that three out of four individuals who experienced harassment did not talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct because they feared disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.

EEOC Pitches Lack of Diversity in the Tech Industry as an “Innovation Opportunity”

*NOTE:  The EEOC issued a report at its meeting (discussed below) that completely ignored age discrimination except for a footnote stating that more research on age discrimination is needed. According to the report,  compared to overall private industry, the high tech sector employed a larger share of whites (63.5 percent to 68.5 percent), Asian Americans (5.8 percent to 14 percent) and men (52 percent to 64 percent), and a smaller share of African Americans (14.4 percent to 7.4 percent), Hispanics (13.9 percent to 8 percent), and women (48 percent to 36 percent). Ed.

After more tGoogle_Mountain_View_campus_dinosaur_skeleton_'Stan'han a decade of ignoring rampant and blatant age discrimination in the tech industry (and everywhere else), the issue appears has surfaced on the EEOC’s radar screen. But it is not  seen as an overly-ripe target for enforcement of older workers civil rights. Rather, it is couched as an “innovation opportunity.”

The EEOC has announced it will hold a meeting in Washington, DC, on Wednesday entitled, “Innovation Opportunity: Examining Strategies to Promote Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces in the Tech Industry.”

While it might be hoped the EEOC would actually enforce the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Agency deserves credit for acknowledging that age is a diversity issue, which is something that Silicon Valley  stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. Also, the EEOC deserves major kudos given that the Obama administration  for the past eight years, has treated older workers  like an obstacle to diversity and not a group that deserves equal rights under the law.

One of the invited panelists for Wednesday’s meeting is an attorney from the AARP Foundation, which is an organization that the EEOC apparently entrusts to be polite about the EEOC’s regulatory lapses during the past decade. The AARP Foundation almost has to be polite because it’s mothership is the the monolithic AARP, which also has done little to advocate for older workers by combating age discrimination. Moreover, the AARP is reaping billions  from the sale of Medigap health insurance after having lobbied to keep Medigap reforms out of Obamacare. The AARP receives  an estimated 4.95 percent of every dollar that seniors spend on its Medigap plans. These fees are reportedly double the income the AARP receives from “membership:” dues.  A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Medigap reforms blocked by the AARP would have saved the average senior as much as $415 in premiums per year.

It is perhaps not surprising that my name does not appear on the EEOC’s guest list.

My groundbreaking 2014 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, criticizes the systemic inequality of older workers in American society, especially in Silicon Valley. I note that the ADEA was weak to begin with and  then was further eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Congress has done nothing to insure equal rights for older workers. I also  criticize the EEOC  for failing to combat an massive increase in age discrimination complaints since 1998 and I point out that President Barack Obama signed a devastating executive order in 2010 that actually legalizes age discrimination in federal hiring.

I may be alone in the U.S. in reporting that the EEOC itself stands accused of engaging in systemic age discrimination in hiring

Earlier this year I  reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  filed a friend-of-the-court brief in an age discrimination case in which it defended employers who practice age discrimination in hiring by noting that the EEOC does the very same thing.  The Chamber cited the EEOC Attorney Honor Program, which employs in “permanent” positions “third-year law student[s], “full-time graduate law students[s],” and “Judicial Law Clerk[s] whose clerkship must be [their] first significant legal employment following [their] graduation.”  The EEOC states on its web site that graduates of the Honor Program go on to serve as trial attorneys or Administrative Judges in the EEOC’s District Offices. Since the vast majority of recent law clerks and law and graduate students are under the age of 40, it is not a stretch to conclude that the  EEOC program has a disparate impact upon attorneys who are aged 40 and above.  That’s supposed to be illegal under the ADEA.

Criticism of an administration or federal agency often is dismissed as partisan politics.  I do criticize  the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress for abandoning older workers during the worst recession in 100 years.  Millions of older Americans remain subject to pervasive discriminatory hiring practices and bogus layoffs and restructurings. I do not argue, however, that the Republicans would have done better than the Democrats. I simply don’t think they could have done much worse. That’s why I support Bernie.