Yesterday, the EEOC released its charge statistics report for its 2009 fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2009. Not surprisingly, during an economically difficult period, the statistics show a near record number of charges filed -- 93,277 -- which is second only to the 2008 fiscal year when 95,402 charges were filed.
As usual, sex and race discrimination charges led the pack, but they also showed a slight decline from the previous fiscal year. Somewhat surprisingly, during a period that saw extensive reductions-in-force, age discrimination charges were significantly down. On the other hand, disability discrimination and retaliation charges showed the sharpest increase, both numerically and statistically.
The increase in disability discrimination charges likely can be tied directly to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) which makes it significantly easier for applicants and employees to establish that they have a protected disability. Employers can reduce the likelihood of being targeted for a disability discrimination charge by recognizing this new reality and engaging in good faith in the interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation exists for applicants or employees with alleged disabilities. Frequently, the give and take of the interactive process if conducted in good faith will either result in finding an accommodation that both sides can live with or demonstrating to the applicant or employee's satisfaction that no reasonable accommodations actually exist. Remember, the ADA, even as amended by the ADAAA, still does not require the employer to provide applicants or employees with the accommodation they want -- only a reasonable one.
With respect to retaliation charges, as we have preached in previous posts both here and here, employers must be careful to treat employees who have filed discrimination charges or lawsuits as they would treat any other employee -- no better, no worse. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Crawford v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson County early in the 2009 term held that the retaliation protection provided by Title VII extend to employees who speak out about discrimination during the employer’s investigation into another employee’s internal complaint of discrimination. The Crawford decision, therefore, underscores employers' need to protect themselves from potential retaliation cases in this context as well by following up on any employees who claim "me too" in the course of internal discrimination investigations.