Discrimination is a multimillion-dollar cost factor in the business of doing business. Perpetrators have to pay up when caught: victims must be compensated; lawyers must be paid; and, in the aftermath of due process, there are hefty fees to shell out to clean up the image of the business. Meanwhile, the damage to productivity is irreparable.
Some businesses — and the people they employ — just don’t get it. Amid a deluge of books on how to operate a business in the most profitable way in today’s globalized, highly competitive techno-marketplace, and at a time when modern corporate thinking appears to have embraced “diversity and inclusion” as a “business imperative” that helps to increase the bottom line, you would think that discrimination in the workplace — whether based on race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition or any other reason that very special minds dream up — would be on its way out.
In January, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that the number of discrimination charges filed with the agency against private places of employment “hit an unprecedented level” (99,922 cases) during fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, 2010. Moreover, the commission reported, the agency secured more than $404 million in monetary benefits from employers, the highest level of monetary relief it has ever obtained through the administrative process.
With good reason, the commission is cheering its own efficiency. Although it ended fiscal 2010 with an inventory of 86,338 pending charges, the same year it filed 250 lawsuits, resolved 285 lawsuits and resolved 104,999 private sector charges. And the pending inventory figure was bigger by just 570 charges, or less than 1 percent, than the inventory at the end of fiscal year 2009. By comparison, the pending inventory between fiscal years 2008 and 2009 increased 15.9 percent.
Perhaps the nearly 100,000 cases filed with the EEOC in fiscal 2010 means that more victims are deciding to do something about the discrimination they experience instead of sucking it up and moving on. It may even be that the commission has made itself more accessible to the public as the federally established mechanism for recourse. Whatever the explanation, we’re looking at discrimination cases occurring in the tens of thousands in workplaces nationwide. And those are only formally reported incidents. The commission says all of the major categories of charge filings, including charges filed against state and local governments, saw an increase in fiscal 2010 over fiscal 2009. The categories include charges alleging discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; the Equal Pay Act; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) that finally was signed into law in May 2008 after 13 years of debate in Congress. Allegations based on religion (3,790), disability (25,165) and age (23,264) increased, while in just its first year of enforcement, GINA was the subject of 201 charges filed.
If, in this sordid picture that the EEOC paints of America’s work environment, there’s a pony somewhere, to use one of President Ronald Reagan’s favorite optimisms, it is that race lost its 45-year hold on the No. 1 discrimination charge filed with the agency. Last year, for the first time ever, retaliation under all of the statutes enforced by the EEOC surpassed race as the most frequently filed charge. That’s 36,258 retaliation cases and 35,890 race cases.