The General Counsel of the EEOC went on record this week with a couple of significant announcements.

P. David Lopez said that the EEOC planned to file fewer “systemic cases” this year than last – presumably because of limited resources and the need to utilize these resources for existing litigations, which are time and resource consuming. The EEOC has defined a “systemic case” as involving discrimination that has a broad or major impact on an industry, profession, company or geographic location. The EEOC’s “Systemic Initiative” of 2006 made such cases a “top priority,” so the announcement of fewer suits is noteworthy.   

Mr. Lopez also announced that the EEOC is now treating as “priority” cases which the private bar is less likely to take on, for example, cases of hiring discrimination, where the EEOC has broader authority than private attorneys, such as subpoena authority, to investigate claims.  

Additionally, the EEOC is likely to focus on what it refers to as vulnerable workers, such as in human trafficking situations, where workers are brought to this country and are mistreated or even enslaved or made indentured servants. For example, in a press release dated April 2011, the EEOC reported that it filed suit against a farm labor contractor known as Global Horizons alleging that it

“engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse. … [and] enticed Thai male nationals into working at the farms with the false promises of steady, high-paying agricultural jobs along with temporary visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally.  The opportunity came at a price: high recruitment fees creating an insurmountable debt for the Thai workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, which set the tone for the abuses to come.” 

We will keep you posted as to whether the EEOC in fact acts in conformance with these announcements.