Hunton Profile

Administrative Law Task Force

The Administrative Task Force plays a critical role in keeping our OSHA practice current and vibrant.  We follow developments daily and we work together to analyze the impact that proposed and actual changes will have on the law in general and specifically on our client’s industries. Employers today face an unprecedented range of workplace safety and OSHA legal issues as government increases worker safety and health regulation and demands meticulous reviews by its OSHA inspection force.

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Is The Bad Economy Fueling Employment Discrimination Claims?

Expanding on our December 21 post, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on January 11, 2011, announced that private sector workplace discrimination charge filings reached the “unprecedented level” of 99,922 during fiscal year 2010, which ended on September 30, 2010.  According to the data, all major categories of charge filings in the private sector, including charges against state and local governments, increased significantly.

This comes as the EEOC has hired more employees to handle the growth in volume and clear the backlog of unprocessed charges and actions. Despite the sharp increase in new charges filed during FY 2010, the EEOC was apparently able to slow the growth of charge inventory and ended the year with 86,338 pending charges -- an increase of only 570 charges, or less than one percent.  This is significant because during FY 2008 and 2009, the EEOC’s pending inventory increased 15.9 percent.

The EEOC found no reasonable cause in 64.3% percent of the FY 2010 charges, and found reasonable cause in only 4.7% of charges. Of the 99,922 new charges, 35.9% were based on race, 29.1% based on sex, 11.3% based on national origin, 3.8% based on religion, 23.3% were based on age, 25.2% were based on disability, 1.% were based on the Equal Pay Act, 0.2% were based on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and 36.3% were retaliation charges (in FY 2009, retaliation claims surpassed race as the most frequently filed charge).

The EEOC’s mediation program also set a record during FY 2010. Of the 99,922 new charges received, 9,370 or 9.3% were settled at the administrative stage, which was ten percent more than FY 2009 and resulted in $319.4 million in monetary benefits for claimants, not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation.

The EEOC also filed 250 lawsuits during FY 2010, resolved 285 lawsuits, and resolved a total of 104,999 private sector charges resulting in a total of $404 million in monetary benefits from employers, which the EEOC reported is “the highest level of monetary relief ever obtained by the Commission through the administrative process.”

The record level of charges and recoveries -- more than at any time in the EEOC’s 45 year history -- comes during the worst job market since the Great Depression, suggesting that the increase stems, in large measure, from an increase in adverse actions caused by the bad economy, and displaced employees who refuse to go without a fight.

EEOC Guidance re: Waiver and Release Agreements

On July 15, 2009, the EEOC issued guidance entitled "Understanding Waivers of Discrimination Claims in Employee Severance Agreements." In this guidance, the EEOC generally explains the waiver of discrimination claims through release agreements and answers questions employees may have about the effect of those agreements on the filing of charges of discrimination and on severance pay. These questions include the following: "May I still file a charge with the EEOC if I believe I have been discriminated against based on my age, race, sex or disability, even if I signed a waiver releasing my employer from all claims?" and "If I file a charge with the EEOC after signing a waiver, will I have to return my severance pay?"  (The EEOC’s answers to these questions are “yes,” and “no,” respectively.)  The EEOC also explains its position on what constitutes a "knowing and voluntary" waiver under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Pay Act, and what is required for a waiver to be effective under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In view of the fact that the EEOC has taken the effort to publish this guidance, and considering that the current administration has served notice that federal agencies like the EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce the nation's labor and employment laws, employers should have their current release agreements reviewed by labor and employment counsel.