The Obama Administration announced on February 1, 2010, that it requested $385.3 million for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for fiscal year 2011. In addition, the administration requested $162 million for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Significantly, the requests represent an $18 million dollar budget increase for the EEOC and a $17 million dollar budget increase for the DOJ Civil Rights Division.
These budget increases will allow the EEOC and DOJ to increase enforcement efforts. EEOC Chairman Stuart Ishimaru noted that budget increases would “allow [the EEOC] to build on the progress [ ] made in hiring frontline staff, reducing a burgeoning inventory of charges, and increasing productivity.” BNA 20 Daily Labor Report AA-8. Furthermore, Ishimaru, who has made the EEOC’s nationwide systemic enforcement program a top priority, noted that increased funding would enable the agency to “continue [its] focus on systemic enforcement.” BNA 20 DLR AA-8
Systemic discrimination cases typically involve an employer policy or practice that results in a disparate impact upon a group of persons in a protected class or a class action. Such cases often focus on employer hiring and promotion policies or practices. Both the EEOC and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division have authority to litigate systemic discrimination or pattern or practice cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC handles systemic discrimination cases on behalf of employees in the private and federal sector while the Civil Rights Division litigates pattern or practice cases on behalf of persons employed by state and local governments. In addition, the EEOC also has the ability to litigate systemic discrimination cases under many of the other laws that it enforces, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Systemic discrimination cases are important to the EEOC’s goal of eliminating employment discrimination because such cases often gain nationwide attention, can lead to large settlements or damage awards, and can impact a broad section of an industry or a profession. Private employers should be aware that the EEOC often utilizes information that it gathers from individual charges and requests for information to build a case for potential systemic discrimination claims.