New federal employment discrimination claim data shows retaliation and harassment claims in high numbers.
Of the almost 90,000 employment discrimination complaints filed with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal year 2015, almost half of them were for allegations of retaliation against employees by employers. Nearly one-third of the claims contained accusations of illegal harassment in the workplace.
By the numbers
The EEOC issued a press release in February 2016 detailing the kinds of discrimination claims filed in FY 2015 by U.S. workers with the agency, which is charged with enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Here is a breakdown of approximate numbers of types of discrimination claims during that period (please note the sum of all percentages is more than 100 percent due to some claims making multiple allegations):
- Race: 31,000 or 35 percent
- Sex: 26,400 or 30 percent (including gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity)
- National origin: 9,400 or 11 percent
- Religion: 3,500 or 4 percent
- Color: 2,800 or 3 percent
- Retaliation: 39,800 or 45 percent
- Age: 20,100 or 23 percent (over 40 years old)
- Disability: 27,000 or 30 percent
- Equal Pay Act: 1,000 or 1 percent
- Genetic information: 300 or 0.3 percent
- Harassment: 28,000 or 31 percent
It is illegal to retaliate against an employee for exercising his or her civil rights, known as engaging in "protected activity." For example, it would be unlawful for an employer to fire or demote someone for reporting discrimination or harassment to a superior, manager or human resources department or for filing a charge of discrimination with a government agency or court. It is also unlawful to punish a worker for cooperating in an investigation of workplace discrimination or for acting as a witness in an agency complaint or lawsuit alleging discrimination or harassment.
The high number of retaliation complaints has spurred the EEOC to prioritize prevention of retaliation. In a 2015 public meeting focused on retaliation, EEOC attorney Raymond Peeler described in written testimony that the focus on retaliation is crucial to enforcement of the anti-discrimination laws. Obviously, if complaining about discrimination or cooperating in efforts to combat it could cost someone his or her job or result in poor treatment at work, people will stop coming forward and may suffer in silence.
Harassment is a type of discrimination focused on poor treatment of people in the workplace based on protected characteristics. Harassment can impact the ability of an employee to do the job or cause severe stress and psychological problems.
People most often think of harassment based on sex, which can either be manifested by a request for a sexual favor in exchange for a work benefit, or by a hostile work environment in which severe or frequent unwanted behavior of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, abusive or hostile work environment.
Harassment can also be based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age or genetic information.
Seek legal advice
Anyone who experiences discrimination or retaliation at work should speak with an attorney as soon as possible to understand potential legal remedies and for help with procedural requirements and deadlines. Any employer seeking to establish a discrimination-free workplace that complies with the law or who faces a charge of discrimination should likewise consult an experienced lawyer.
The attorneys at the law firm of Bryan E. Kuhn, Counselor at Law, P.C., represent employees in claims of discrimination throughout the greater Denver area. In addition, the lawyers provide guidance to employers seeking to establish policies and procedures that comply with anti-discrimination laws as well as in charges of workplace wrongdoing.