In 2012, the EEOC released its Strategic Plan for 2012-2016, detailing the areas where it would be focusing its attention during the next few years. As part of the Strategic Plan, the EEOC also drafted a Strategic Enforcement Plan, which establishes its enforcement priorities for fiscal years 2013-2016. These priorities will reportedly receive more of the EEOC’s limited funding and staff attention, and local EEOC offices will be entitled to use their discretion to bring cases which fall into these categories. EEOC staff will also receive targeted training on these particular areas.
As stated in the Commission’s Strategic Plan, the EEOC’s main enforcement priorities for the next three years will be:
- Eliminating barriers in recruiting and hiring: targeting class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic, and religious groups, older workers, women and people with disabilities.
- Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers: targeting disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking, and discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may by unable or unwilling to enforce their rights.
- Addressing emerging and developing issues: targeting emerging issues in equal employment law, including developing theories, judicial decisions, and administrative interpretations.
- Enforcing equal pay laws: targeting gender discrimination in compensation systems.
- Preserving access to the legal system: targeting policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights or the EEOC from investigations and enforcement actions.
- Preventing harassment through systematic enforcement and targeted outreach: pursuit of systematic investigations and litigation to deter workplace harassment.
The EEOC has recently taken steps to follow through with the priorities outlined in its Strategic Enforcement Plan. In August 2013, it brought a suit against fast food franchise accusing it of gender-based discrimination in both pay and conditions of employment (see point number 4 above). The EEOC alleged that female employees were hired at significantly lower pay rates, even though they performed the same duties. They also alleged that male employees were given more hours than female employees, and that when the restaurant was not busy, female employees were sent home and male employees were not. This case is currently pending.
Within the context of addressing emerging issues (point number 3 above), the EEOC has placed special emphasis on addressing pregnancy-related limitations under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The EEOC has recently been asked by the Supreme Court to weigh in on the types of accommodations that pregnant employees should receive under federal law. Many legal observers believe the EEOC will push for more expansive accommodations in furtherance of its strategic enforcement goal in this area, though it has not yet publicly stated its position. It is also likely the EEOC will take similar actions where appropriate with respect to its other strategic enforcement priorities. While all employment-law related issues merit concern and attention within an organization, employers should be particularly mindful of where the EEOC is expected to focus its attention over the next few years.