Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released its fiscal year 2007 statistics, showing a nine percent increase in the total number of charges of discrimination filed with the agency. The increase to just under 83,000 charges is the largest year-to-year jump since 1993. These figures reverse a slight downward trend in the number of charges during the last decade.
The increase in charges was led by an 18% spike in retaliation claims. Retaliation is now cited in almost one-third of all EEOC charges. Age discrimination claims rose 15% in 2007, perhaps indicating a long-expected increase in age charges based upon aging baby boomer demographics. Disability and pregnancy discrimination claims were also sharply up. The EEOC also stated that it settled over 72,000 charges filed in 2007, collecting $345 million in compensation for persons who claimed workplace discrimination.
Given the weakening national economy, this increase may not be a one-year phenomenon. As the job market tightens and employers begin to reduce their workforces, the number of charges from employees separated for economic reasons can be expected to increase. Recessions are often accompanied by a spike in age discrimination claims because cost savings efforts frequently target higher compensated employees who tend to be older. Employers faced with the need to reduce headcount should structure and document the selection process to defend against possible discrimination claims.