In fiscal year 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed fewer lawsuits while recovering more money for victims of discrimination, according to the agency’s annual performance report.
According to the report released Jan. 19, the number of merits suits filed by the EEOC was the second lowest in 29 years, reflecting a shift in priorities under former EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon. Dhillon, a Republican, headed the commission from May 2019 until last month. In the role, she had prioritized conciliation and mediation over litigation, which she said should be used as “a last resort.”
The EEOC filed 93 merits suits in FY 2020, down from 144 in FY 2019 and 199 in FY2018, according to the report. Meanwhile, the success rate for conciliations reached 43.6% in FY 2020, compared to 40% in FY 2019 and just 27% in 2010.
In July, the EEOC announced two pilot programs to expand and encourage use of its mediation and conciliation processes. The conciliation pilot sought to “drive greater internal accountability and improve the EEOC’s implementation of existing practices.”
The mediation pilot expanded the categories of charges eligible for mediation and allowed for mediation throughout the stages of an investigation. Prior to the pilot, charges were generally only referred for mediation prior to an investigation.
Holland & Hart attorney Devra Hake previously worked at the EEOC, and said she remembers thinking the agency’s mediation arm was “underutilized” at the time. “With this new pilot program that came out in 2020, where mediation is more available throughout the stages of an investigation,” she said, “I think employers are taking advantage of that and using mediation more to efficiently resolve charges of discrimination.”