The number of discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in fiscal year 2014 reached the lowest level since 2007, according to recently published statistics from the EEOC. Retaliation charges, however, made up 42.8 percent of all charges in the same time period, the highest percentage ever.

The total number of charges declined from 93,727 in fiscal year 2013 to 88,778 in fiscal year 2014; 37,955 of which were retaliation charges. Retaliation claims have made up the highest proportion of charges since 2009.

Other significant categories of charges include race discrimination (35 percent), sex discrimination (29.3 percent), disability (28.6 percent), and age (23.2 percent) (The figures add up to more than 100 percent because some charges allege multiple bases for discrimination.).

In fiscal year 2014, Illinois had the fifth-highest number of charges of any state in the country, at 4,487. Only Texas, Florida, California, and Georgia had more charges. Mirroring the national figures, retaliation charges made up 42 percent of the charges filed in Illinois in fiscal year 2014, which ran from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.

The total number of charges nationwide has been declining since 2011. However, the EEOC noted that the decrease in fiscal year 2014 charges was due in part to the U.S. government shutdown in October 2013.

Retaliation-related issues are one of the six priority areas in the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2013-2016. The EEOC describes this priority as “targeting policies and practices which discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under the employment discrimination statutes or that impede EEOC’s enforcement efforts.” An example touted by the EEOC is its lawsuit against CVS Pharmacy, which alleged that the company’s standard separation agreement unlawfully deterred departing employees from later filing discrimination charges or participating in EEOC investigations. The case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, but is on appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 2014 figures, and the emphasis placed on retaliation enforcement initiatives by the EEOC, are an important reminder that employers should take appropriate steps to minimize the likelihood of a retaliation claim even when the underlying discrimination claim is not meritorious. Employers should ensure they maintain up-to-date anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies, enforce these policies consistently, communicate with employees regarding these policies and the complaint process, and educate and train supervisors on them on a regular basis.