EEOC’s Disability Discrimination Docket Grows

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which promotes equality and diversity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employ­ment discrimination, strongly closed out the 2017 fiscal year with 202 actions, 184 merits lawsuits, and 18 subpoena enforcement actionsnearly 100 more lawsuits than in 2016. In fact, the EEOC filed more lawsuits in the last three months of 2017 than it did during all of 2016, with 88 in September alone.

While claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) still account for most of the agency’s filings, the EEOC brought 77 cases under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this year, making the ADA the second most active statute. Between 2015 and 2016, the EEOC’s disability charges increased by 6 percent and were the third largest category of charges filed: retaliation – 42,018 (45.9 percent); race – 32,309 (35.3 percent); disability – 28,073 (30.7 percent) (Most filings include multiple charges, explaining how the above adds up to more than 100%). It follows that now, in 2017, disability claims make up a larger portion of the EEOC’s docket.

One high-profile disability case this year is EEOC v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., in which the EEOC charges that a retail employee with hearing and speech disabilities was subjected to harassment by her coworkers at Big Lots. According to the complaint, the employee’s coworkers often mocked her hearing disability and manner of speech and frequently used derogatory and highly offensive terms in reference to her and her disabilities. Big Lots also allegedly refused to select the employee with disabilities for several vacant jobs that she sought at the store because of her disabilities and in retaliation for her reporting harassment to company officials and to the EEOC. Big Lots also allegedly subjected another employee, without disabilities, to discrimination and retaliation by changing her work schedule and withdrawing its permission for her to hold outside employment with the U.S. Postal Service—thereby forcing her to quit her job with Big Lots to save her Postal Service career—because of her friendship with the disabled employee and opposing discrimination.

On June 28, 2017, President Trump tapped Janet Dhillon as Chair of the EEOC. Ms. Dhillon would come to the EEOC with extensive experience in a big law firm and as the lead lawyer for three large corporations: US Airways, J.C. Penney, and Burlington Stores Inc. We cannot know in what direction Ms. Dhillon will take the EEOC or what effect her leadership will have on the EEOC’s priorities, but large companies hope that, with a more business-friendly and Republican-leaning commission, some efforts will be rolled back.

If your employer has discriminated against you based on your disability or perceived disability, contact The Harman Firm, LLP, for a free assessment of your claims.