Workplace Discrimination: 7 Areas Targeted by the EEOC

“The [Equal Opportunity Employment Commission] received a total of 99,947 charges of discrimination in fiscal year 2011, a slight increase from the year before… [and] filed 300 lawsuits and 261 ‘merits’ lawsuits, which include direct suits and interventions alleging violations of the substantive provisions of the statutes enforced by the EEOC and suits to enforce administrative settlements. (EEOC Receives Record Number of Charges of Discrimination for the Second Year in a Row by Poyner Spruill LLP)

Most business owners, employers and HR professionals know that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with investigating and prosecuting discrimination on the job. But how far does the long arm of the EEOC reach? What specific types of discrimination does the agency target in the workplace?

For your reference, here’s a look at seven workplace regulations that fall under the jurisdiction of the EEOC:

1. The Americans with Disabilities Act:

“… the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that Verizon Communications will pay $20 million and take other remedial measures to settle a class action disability discrimination lawsuit that the EEOC filed against the company… The EEOC’s lawsuit claimed that Verizon unlawfully denied reasonable accommodations to hundreds of employees and disciplined or fired them pursuant to the company’s ‘no fault’ attendance policy…” (EEOC’s $20 Million Settlement with Verizon Puts Focus on “No Fault” Attendance and Leave Policies by Poyner Spruill LLP)

See also: Disappointing New ADAAA Regulations Issued by the EEOC (Miller & Martin PLLC)

2. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

“… the EEOC issued regulations related to Title II of GINA. The EEOC is charged with investigating alleged violations of GINA. The EEOC’s regulations … make it clear that employers are not permitted to use genetic information in making employment decisions, including health benefits. In addition, the EEOC’s regulations broadly define ‘request’ for genetic information to include such actions as conducting an internet search on an individual that is likely to result in the discovery of genetic information and actively listening to third-party conversations with the intent of obtaining genetic information. (EEOC Issues Final Regulations for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 by Poyner Spruill LLP)

See also: EEOC Issues Regulations Interpreting The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act 2008 (Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP)

3. Employer Use of Background Checks and Credit Reports

“EEOC’s policy guidances provide that a blanket exclusion of individuals from employment due to a criminal record violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unless the policy is consistent with business necessity or otherwise required by law. The EEOC has previously found that employment decisions based on such criteria disproportionately exclude African-American and Hispanic individuals. For this reason, the EEOC’s guidance has also stated that employers should not consider arrests, but only convictions.” (Employer Use of Criminal Background Checks and Credit Reports in Hiring Faces Heightened Scrutiny by EEOC by Lane Powell PC – Labor & Employment Law)

See also: EEOC Alleges That The Use Of Credit Histories To Make Employment Decisions May Have A Disparate Impact On Minorities (Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP)

4. Age Discrimination

“The EEOC reached a $1 million class settlement with Virginia’s Cavalier Telephone, LLC, over allegations that the company used recruiters who made comments that showed age-based bias including that they did not want to hire anyone who was ‘over 40 and pudgy.’ The two class representatives also alleged that they were demoted and terminated after they complained.” (Employment Law Roundup: Facebook Wage Rant, EEOC Scores Again, FMLA Bereavement Leave, Gender Gap Narrows, Menorah House and the Sabbath, Mini-horse as Accommodation by Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP)

See also: EEOC Issues Proposed Regulations Defining Employers’ Affirmative Defense Under ADEA (McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC)

5. Sexual Harassment

“The EEOC has provided guidelines as to the type of conduct that will amount to sexual harassment… Sexual harassment might include unwelcome sexual advances or propositions, unwanted touching, or preferential or derogatory treatment based on gender. Discriminatory harassment might include using insulting or degrading language that would reasonably offend members of a given protected class, distributing or displaying any written or graphic materials that would be offensive to members of any protected group, and using racial, religious or ethnic epithets.” (It’s Time to Dust Off Dealership Policies Against Discriminatory Harassment! by McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC)

See also: Sexual Harassment Claims May Arise from the Conduct of Non-Employees (Poyner Spruill LLP)

6. Pregnancy Discrimination and Caregiver Issues

“Although Title VII does not specifically prohibit discrimination against ‘caregivers’ as a protected category, the EEOC has taken the position that, in some circumstances, discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities may constitute discrimination based on sex, disability or other characteristics protected by federal discrimination laws. In 2007, the agency issued an enforcement guidance and a related set of questions and answers addressing discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities.” (EEOC to Hold Public Meeting on Pregnancy Discrimination and Caregiver Issues by Ford & Harrison LLP)

See also: EEOC Issues Guidance on Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities (Duane Morris LLP)

7.Religious Discrimination

“The greatest area of conflict emerging within the courts, and between the courts and the EEOC, is with respect to dress and grooming policies. On the one hand, the EEOC and some courts hold that denying an employee’s request for a policy exception for religious dress or grooming, based on health, safety and security situations is unacceptable. On the other hand, some courts have approved employer prerogatives regarding ‘public image’ as a sufficient showing for undue hardship for denying a religious accommodation.” (Work-Faith Conflicts And The EEOC by Fisher & Phillips LLP)

See also: Religion in the Workplace: 5 Devilish Employer Mistakes (Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP)


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