Retaliation and Racial Discrimination Claims are Spiking: Could the Bad Economy be to Blame?

According to an April 25th article in the Hartford Courant, last year, employees filed nearly 100,000 complaints of workplace discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – “an all-time high.”

More than 33,000 complaints were specifically for retaliation, which has now surpassed “racial discrimination” as the number one EEOC complaint. The EEOC also received high numbers of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, disability and national origin, and religious discrimination complaints last year.

A spokesperson for Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), Jim O’Neill, blamed the spike on the recession: “The economy is bad and people are desperate not to lose their jobs, so they are filing complaints they would not necessarily have made in the past.”

The Courant, however, also quotes an EEOC spokesperson, James Ryan, who cautioned analysts not to over-interpret the spike: “The fiscal year charge data can tell us a lot, but it does not tell us why there was an increase in a given charge or about the cause for the filing of particular charges.”

The Courant’s analyst speculates that the rise in retaliation filings could be attributable to “shifting legal strategies by plaintiffs’ lawyers.”

The swelling number of complaints has some policymakers alarmed. Will all this legal action help employees and make the system fairer? Or will it simply glut the court systems and create an unnecessary burden on employers who are already struggling with a tough economy?

It’s difficult to answer these questions objectively, since one’s perspective will color one’s read of the data. For instance, if you’re an advocate for workers’ rights, you may look at the spike in EEOC filings and conclude that employers are giving their workers short shrift and cutting corners to survive in the troubled economy. On the other hand, the data could be read differently. Perhaps employers are acting like they always did… but workers are now (for whatever reason) far less tolerant of bad behavior or mistreatment than they had been in the past.

Pulling back from the policy debate and regardless of whether there are more or less issues being reported, it’s important to ground this in practical terms if you or someone you care about has been victimized by racial discrimination, retaliation, or any other workplace violation. The legal team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum can provide high-caliber assistance in such matters. Connect today for a free and confidential consultation at www.jhllp.com or (212) 688-5640.