Over the past month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a series of lawsuits targeting alleged harassment and retaliation situations. The EEOC has filed the suits in coordinated waves, spread out in multiple parts of the U.S. While most of the lawsuits allege sexual harassment, others are aimed at employers accused of tolerating racial and national origin harassment.
The EEOC has limited litigation resources, and these suits demonstrate that the agency continues to make prosecuting harassment, and especially sexual harassment claims a top priority. In our experience, litigating against the EEOC presents challenges usually not present when the litigation is driven by attorneys in private practice. The agency often engages in more extensive discovery (document requests and depositions), meaning that the costs of litigation can substantially increase. Upon filing suit, the EEOC issues a national press release containing the allegations against the employer. If a matter is settled, the agency usually issues another press release, and rarely agrees to forgo disclosure of the terms of settlement.
For employers, the consequences of failing to address harassment issues in the #MeToo era should by themselves be enough to cause companies to take proactive steps to detect and deter harassment problems. When the possibility of a lawsuit by the federal government is added, investing the cost and time required to implement a clear and effective anti-harassment policy makes even more sense.