On October 4, 2018, the EEOC announced preliminary sexual harassment data for FY 2018, which ended September 30. The acting chair of the agency, Victoria Lipnic, said the EEOC had received many requests for the data in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the reporting on Harvey Weinstein and the birth of the #MeToo movement.
The data shows that charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment in FY 2018 increased over 12 percent from FY 2017. This was the first increase in such claims in at least eight years and comes as the total number of discrimination and harassment claims declined. Of course, the EEOC data is just part of the picture, as employees alleging sexual harassment may file charges with state or local agencies or lodge internal complaints with their employer instead of filing with the EEOC.
In FY 2018, The EEOC filed 66 harassment lawsuits, 41 of which included allegations of sexual harassment—a more than 50 percent increase in suits challenging sexual harassment from FY 2017. And this does not reflect the total number of new cases filed involving sexual harassment, as many litigants pursue their claims through private litigation. Finally, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for victims of sexual harassment through litigation and administrative enforcement, a huge increase from its recovery of $47.5 million in FY 2017.
But enforcement is just one way the EEOC is combatting sexual harassment. According to Lipnic, the EEOC is fighting the problem “with every tool available to us.” In 2015, the EEOC formed a task force to focus on the issue of sexual harassment. Lipnic explained that the task force was formed because “we were so struck by the persistence and pervasiveness of this issue in so many workplaces” that “we had to address it in some many beyond the normal operations of the commission.” In October 2017, the EEOC launched an innovative training program, “Respectful Workplaces,” which teaches skills for employees and supervisors to promote and contribute to respect in the workplace. The program has been in high demand since its launch. Over 9,000 employees and supervisors in the private, public, and federal sector workforces participated in the Respectful Workplaces training this past fiscal year, and an additional 13,000 participated in other EEOC compliance trainings.
Lipnic explained the EEOC’s frontlines approach to fighting sexual harassment thusly: “As the agency with expertise, as the enforcer of the law, and as an educator, the EEOC has continued to lead the way to achieve the goal of reducing the level of harassment and to promote harassment-free workplaces.” Employers can expect the EEOC to continue aggressively investigating harassment claims and enforcing the law. Employers should also expect increased enforcement activity from state and local agencies, in addition to a rise in private lawsuits alleging claims of harassment. For these reasons, employers must remain vigilant.
Harassment claims can be avoided or at least mitigated if employers take appropriate preventive measures. This means putting in place effective anti-harassment policies with more than one lane for reporting claims and a strong anti-retaliation provision; establishing procedures for fair and comprehensive investigation of all complaints; consistent enforcement of anti-harassment policies; and periodic training for employees and supervisors on the policies.