Employment Law Report

EEOC Cites Strategic Enforcement Plan In Recent Litigation Activity

eeocBy Michelle D. Wyrick

A quick look at the EEOC’s press releases announcing the lawsuits it has recently filed demonstrates the agency’s apparent commitment to its Strategic Enforcement Plan.  For example, the EEOC filed two lawsuits, one against a BMW manufacturing facility and one against Dollar General, alleging that the employers violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by using criminal background checks that resulted in employees being fired or being screened out for employment.  The EEOC asserts that in both instances the employer’s criminal background check policy has a disparate impact on African Americans.  In its press release, the EEOC said: “Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.”  The EEOC cited the same national priority in announcing other lawsuits, including a suit against a pizza restaurant and bar for allegedly refusing to hire a class of African-American applicants for certain positions and suits alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and religious discrimination under Title VII.

The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2013 through 2016 (http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/sep.cfm) identifies six national priorities:

  • Eliminating class-based barriers in recruitment and hiring;
  • Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers;
  • Addressing emerging and developing issues;
  • Enforcing equal pay laws;
  • Preserving access to the legal system; and
  • Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach.

In addition to filing suits designed to eliminate class-based barriers in recruitment and hiring, the EEOC has also recently filed suits targeting “emerging and developing issues in equal employment law.”  Last month, the EEOC filed suit against a nursing and rehabilitation center, alleging that it violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) by asking for family medical history during the hiring process.  The EEOC’s complaint alleges that the nursing and rehabilitation center requested family medical history as part of post-offer, pre-employment medical exams.  The EEOC has also cited its priority of addressing emerging and developing issues in announcing lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Earlier this week, the EEOC filed suit against a transportation company alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.  Referring to its priority of enforcing equal pay laws, the EEOC alleges that a female human resources director was paid substantially less than her male predecessor. 

Similarly, the EEOC has focused on “[e]liminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts.”  The EEOC cited this goal in announcing a lawsuit against a staffing a recruitment company for allegedly retaliating against an employee who filed a discrimination charge.

Finally, the EEOC has also cited its priority of preventing harassment through systemic enforcement in filing lawsuits alleging racial and sexual harassment and retaliation.  The EEOC filed suit against a company that the EEOC alleges subjected an African-American employee to racial and sexual harassment and retaliated against him because he reported the harassment to company officials and then filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC.  In addition, the EEOC recently filed suit under Title VII against an Italian restaurant for allegedly subjecting female employees to sexual harassment and firing a manager who complained about the harassment. 

The EEOC’s recent litigation activity indicates that the EEOC is aligning its enforcement efforts with the objectives identified in its Strategic Enforcement Plan.  Employers should be aware of the EEOC’s objectives and be proactive in addressing any areas that could result in a charge or lawsuit based on one of the EEOC’s national priorities.  Judging from lawsuits that the EEOC has recently filed, such areas include background checks, pre-employment medical exams, compensation practices, and disciplinary action against employees who have reported or complained about alleged harassment.

Michelle D. Wyrick
Michelle Wyrick is a member of the Firm’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution Service Team. She concentrates her practice in the areas of commercial litigation, labor and employment law, and litigation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Read More