On February 22, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") released its Strategic Plan for 2012-2016. The EEOC listed as a top priority increasing the number of systemic discrimination lawsuits against employers. Systemic cases allege a pattern or practice of discrimination or class discrimination. The basis of a systemic case is that the alleged discrimination affects a group of individuals rather than one particular individual. Merely by way of example, a systemic case may involve such allegations as a preference for younger workers in the hiring process, a sick time policy which results in the failure to accommodate individuals with disabilities, or a glass ceiling preventing the advancement of women within the organization.
In its Strategic Plan, the EEOC announced that it will devote more of its resources to finding and prosecuting systemic discrimination cases. Apparently, the EEOC intends to maximize the bang for its litigation buck. By suing employers in cases involving a large number of affected employees, the EEOC will be poised to extract larger monetary awards against employers. In each of the four years of the Strategic Plan, the EEOC states that systemic cases will be an increasing percentage of its litigation docket.
Employers need to be aware of the EEOC’s focus on systemic discrimination. With this internal push to sue systemic discrimination cases, the EEOC almost certainly will seek to expand otherwise routine, single-complainant investigations in the hope of discovering facts to support systemic allegations. This is especially so if the discrimination charge involves a company rule or policy which arguably impacts many employees and not only the complaining party. As a proactive measure, a prudent employer should review its policies and practices to ensure compliance with EEOC guidelines and regulations, and to reduce the risk of a systemic discrimination lawsuit.