With sexual harassment in the workplace becoming a national issue for the past year and a half, employers have been wondering how the #MeToo would affect federal anti-discrimination enforcement.
Now they have some hard numbers. On April 10, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released its comprehensive litigation statistics for fiscal year 2018, which among other things showed a 14% increase in sexual harassment charges compared to FY 2017. But it may still be too early to tell the extent of #MeToo’s impact on litigation coming out of the EEOC.
Of the $505 million the EEOC re- covered from employers in FY 2018, more than $56 million came from sexual harassment claims — a 22% in- crease over the previous year.
In announcing the litigation data, the EEOC also touted improved efficiency in handling discrimination claims. The agency slashed its backlog last year by almost 20%, reducing its workload to just below 50,000 charges. In a press release, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic said the agency “[took] advantage of new strategies to bring about the lowest inventory of private sector charges in a dozen years.”
The backlog reduction came while the agency received a 30% increase in inquiries, which it partly attributes to the launch of its online Public Portal for employees.
But the while the EEOC’s intake activity ramped up in FY 2018, the agency received its fewest total charges since FY 2006, with 76,418.
Amy Miletich, employment litigator and founding shareholder of Miletich PC, said the dip in charges last year might seem surprising to those who expected the #MeToo movement to drive more sex-based charges. But that number could be more influenced by the strong U.S. economy.
A tighter job market means employers are more inclined to hold on to workers, resulting in fewer terminations for workers to challenge, Miletich said.
The reduction in EEOC charges could also be a sign that employers are already improving their work- place culture, she said. “I do believe that there’s been a lot of education through the #MeToo movement … and I do think that employers are being proactive with those types of claims.” While the EEOC doesn’t control the number of charges it receives, it does show discretion over the number of suits it files, “and they led more lawsuits last year than they have in the past,” Miletich said. The agency’s 217 total suits last year was a slight increase from FY 2017 and the most it led since FY 2011.