Job bias claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEOC”) in 2009 reached near-record numbers. By the end of the EEOC’s fiscal year on September 30, 2009, over 93,000 charges of discrimination had been filed with the agency, the second-highest in the EEOC’s history. In a January 6, 2010 press release, the EEOC attributed this “near-historic level of total discrimination charge filings” to several factors, including greater accessibility of the EEOC to the public, distressed economic conditions, employees’ enhanced awareness of their legal rights, and changes to the agency’s intake process that reduced the number of steps necessary for an individual to file a charge.

Both the EEOC and industry experts expect the number of charges filed with the agency to continue to increase in 2010. The EEOC anticipates that the current economic climate will result in at least 101,653 charges of discrimination being filed with the agency during fiscal year 2010. To meet the increased demand for its services, the EEOC requested a $23 million funding increase from Congress. The money will be used to hire approximately 300 new investigators, mediators, and attorneys to reduce the backlog in private sector claims.

Employers should expect a very visible and active EEOC in 2010 and beyond. Not only has the EEOC received increased funding for 2010, but President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget includes a request for an $18 million increase to the EEOC’s annual budget. EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart Ishimaru reiterated the agency’s intent to remain vigilant, stating that President Obama’s requested funds will permit the EEOC “to continue our focus on systemic enforcement.” In light of the EEOC’s heightened visibility, employers should take affirmative steps to prevent discriminatory actions that could serve as the basis for a charge and to ensure that they are in the best position to defend against any charges filed. Employers would be well-served to update handbooks, audit employment policies to ensure that they include recent amendments to the ADA, FMLA, and Equal Pay Act, and train their managers on the implications of such amendments. Employers should also consider providing refresher sexual harassment training courses and remind front line managers of the crucial need to partner with human resources and to document performance problems and conversations at the time they occur.