The 2010 fiscal year was a busy one for the EEOC as employees filed a record number of charges. See A Year In Review: EEOC Charges & Trends. This wave of charges is historic — not just because of the number of charges filed, but also because of the evolving trends in the types of claims made. Unfortunately for employers, these trends will likely continue in 2011 and beyond.
Historically, the most common types of claims filed were those of race and sex discrimination. Although these particular types of claims remain prevalent (the number of both race and sex discrimination claims increased in 2010), other types of claims are emerging at an alarming rate due to recent changes in the legal landscape.
The most prominent of these emerging types of claims is retaliation. Retaliation claims have been filed with the EEOC at a steadily increasing rate in recent years. In 2010, for the first time in history, retaliation claims became the most frequently filed type of claim, even outnumbering claims of race and sex discrimination. Retaliation claims can be problematic for employers. An EEOC spokeswoman was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying, retaliation “is easier [for an employee] to prove.” Adding to employers’ concerns, the Supreme Court recently expanded the rights of third parties to file retaliation claims. See Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 562 US __, 131 S. Ct. 863 (U.S. 2011). As retaliation claims continue to gain notoriety, and as employees become more aware of their rights to file this type of claim, the number of retaliation claims filed with the EEOC will assuredly continue to grow in the foreseeable future.
Another emerging type of claim about which employers should be concerned is disability discrimination. In 2010, the number of disability discrimination claims filed with the EEOC increased by nearly 20%. Due in large part to the enactment of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), this surge will continue as the EEOC publishes its final regulations concerning the ADAAA. These final regulations are expected to establish a broad definition of “disability,” thereby expanding the pool of qualified individuals who can file claims of disability discrimination. In fact, the final regulations reportedly will include a list of per se disabilities that cannot be challenged by employers. Official publication of the EEOC’s final ADAAA regulations is expected by April 2011. If these regulations prove to be as pro-employee as is anticipated, employers undoubtedly will face an increased number of disability discrimination claims.
Employers also should take note that the number of claims under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) may rise significantly in 2011. GINA is relatively new law and provides a new type of claim to individuals who believe they have been discriminated against because of their genetic information. In fact, the EEOC handled its first GINA claims in 2010. Although the number of GINA claims filed last year was relatively small (just 201 in total), employers should not overlook the expected emergence of this claim type. Since the end of the 2010 fiscal year, the EEOC has issued its final GINA regulations, which took effect on January 10, 2011. See EEOC Issues Final Regulations On The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Without question, employees will become more informed about their rights under GINA and more ambitious to test their rights under this new law.
It is critical that employers take appropriate steps to protect themselves against these emerging claims. Employers should update policies to correspond with the recent changes in law. Taking proactive steps now can contribute significantly in avoiding potential claims and in defending against claims filed with the EEOC and related local agencies.