All Americans have the right to a workplace that’s safe and free from discrimination. When your employer violates that right, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But what happens then?
According to a recent article in Vox, the answer is more and more often: Nothing. While the U.S. workforce has doubled since the 1980s, the EEOC budget has remained flat. The agency doesn’t have enough staff, and the staff it has have struggled to keep up with the cases they receive. At the same time, the EEOC has faced pressure from Congress to push through its backlog of cases. The result? EEOC members have filed a growing number of cases into its lowest priority category-and then closed those cases without ever investigating them.
The EEOC’s failure to review cases mean workers are being denied their rights
Vox reports that the EEOC off-loaded nearly 30%, or roughly one-third, of all the cases it received in 2018 into its lowest-priority category. Attorneys have seen a growing number of cases close just a few weeks after being filed, suggesting they never received any investigation. And they say the decisions to close those cases don’t seem to consider the cases’ merits. In one case, a worker was fired shortly after she was diagnosed with a heart condition. The employer’s rationale? The worker did not give a customer a receipt.
The result is that workers suffered. Here are the facts:
- Only 13% of all the cases the EEOC handled in 2018 led to settlements or relief.
- That marks a drop from 18% in 2008.
- Even more workers considered filing cases, but then chose not to. Roughly 60% of the workers who contacted the EEOC about filing claims didn’t end up filing them.
Despite the EEOC’s best efforts, more and more people reporting workplace discrimination are falling through the cracks.
What can workers do?
The EEOC’s difficulties don’t change the reality of your situation. If you suffer workplace discrimination, you still have the right to pursue justice. What changes is that you might need to take a more active role.
In most cases, your first step is to file your complaint with the EEOC. You generally need to file and give the EEOC time to respond before you can file a lawsuit. However, it’s important to remember that you have options even after the EEOC considers-or closes-your case. When the EEOC is closing more and more cases simply because it can’t handle the administrative backlog, it’s more likely that you’ll want a lawyer to help you file your case and follow up on it if the EEOC drops the ball.