Why the Huge Increase in Discrimination Charges?
In last month's Mailer, we wrote about the record number of discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These statistics are staggering and I have to say I was unpleasantly surprised by the fact that 95,402 charges of discrimination were received by the EEOC last year. We are all aware that as economic conditions sour and more jobs are lost, these numbers go up, but for the number of charges to go up by 15% in one year (there were 82,792 charges filed in 2007) are astounding. This is the largest percentage year to year increase since 1992 right after the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was passed giving complainants the right to punitive damages. The last major economic downturn in 2002 resulted in an increase of 4% over 2001 and the increase from 2001 compared to 2000 was a mere 1%.
It caused me to be more attentive to what is going on and what people are saying. In the last few weeks, I have heard a number of comments about the "watermelon White House" and more use of the N word and other discriminatory comments than I have not heard in a number of years. I am hearing derogatory comments about religions, national origin and I even heard a Polish joke a couple of weeks ago. Where did this come from? My kids wouldn't understand a Polish joke because they did not grow up with the inane stereotypes Baby Boomers grew up with. Thank goodness for this change.
Just last week, I had a white woman tell me she went to an all white high school and is not happy seeing a black president. She went on to say that the president is half white, but he does not talk about that part. When she saw my reaction to her comment, she was quick to add that she loves Michelle Obama and thinks she is great. I am still trying to figure out why someone would come into someone's office especially that of a Human Resources management firm and think it is OK to talk that way. Is it because I am a white male and they assume I think the same way as they do? She came to me as she wanted to do business with us. Sorry, lady – not a chance.
Is there really that much more discrimination occurring in the workplace? Maybe people are just out for a quick buck because there are no jobs available? Is the increase in charges a result of how easy it is to file a complaint with the EEOC? Is the internet with all of the bulletin boards encouraging people to file charges?
I am not sure how to answer this as it is tough to drill down into the statistics, except to say that 2008 also saw a record number of retaliation claims. Maybe this is due to the fact that an employee complained about something a long time ago and then got caught up in a layoff and made the illogical conclusion that their layoff was in retaliation for making a complaint. All of this is pure conjecture.
At the same time, our firm has also seen a number of EEOC charges that have been filed that are obviously filed just to be a nuisance to the former employer. In fact these charges are too frivolous to be called frivolous.
There's the case of a Hispanic fork lift operator who was fired for punching a co-worker who complained about being the lowest person in his classification. He filed race, national origin and retaliation complaint. He was actually the highest paid forklift operator when he left the company.
Then there is the employee who was snooping in her boss' desk looking at confidential material and walking around the office on pay day opening the paychecks envelopes of other employees to see what her co-workers were earning. When her actions were discovered, she was fired. Now there is a disability discrimination charge.
Recently, we had a case with a manager who worked the night shift and decided on his own to reduce his hours from 35 hours a week to 5 hours. This guy was a long term, entrusted employee who did not punch a time clock. He would come in for an hour while the day shift employees were there and as soon as his supervisors went home, he did too. When told of his termination, he tried to negotiate a six month severance deal. When that was turned down, he filed an age discrimination charge. He was 42 years old. This guy even hired an attorney to represent him.
These are just a few examples of people who are justifiably terminated who either are not able to take responsibility for their own actions, think they were entitled to take the actions they took or just don't have a sense of reality of what is acceptable performance in the workplace. Some of the equal employment opportunity laws have given some employees a sense of power. We have seen many people try to hold their employers hostage with a threat of a lawsuit.
Has our current system which was developed in 1964, made it too easy for individuals to file complaints at the expense of their former employers? Has this system actually added more fuel to the discrimination fire?
The definitive answer is no. What it does is prove that there are a number of people out there who feel that they have some inalienable right to redress a perceived wrong regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, or disability. Unfortunately, dealing with these people is a risk of doing business in today's world.
Therefore, it is even more important that in these troubled economic times that we stay true to our values and make sure that Equal Employment Opportunity is not just a bunch of words in a handbook. By getting rid of the employees in the above examples, the employers did the right thing. Even though they had to pay money to defend themselves against these less than frivolous charges, they are much better off without them. The money spent cost less than the damage these employees were causing in the workplace.
Do not tolerate harassment or discrimination in your workplace and do not tolerate substandard work or inappropriate behaviors. Communicate expectations and make sure you keep the best. The best are simply the best regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, or disability.
Equal Employment Opportunity has made the workplace better. Keep to the ideals of ensuring that all employees are treated well – even when they leave your organization.