Surge in Sexual Harassment Complaints Since Late 2017 Could Cause Greater Backlog at EEOC

The past year has seen a significant increase in public and media attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Allegations against major figures in politics, media, and other industries have led to what is known as the #MeToo movement, in which people who have remained silent about their experiences with alleged sexual harassment are finally speaking up. An increase in sexual harassment complaints, however, could lead to at least one potential area of concern—the workload and backlogs of the government agencies tasked with investigating employment discrimination complaints. New York City workers can file complaints with federal, state, or city authorities, but complainants in many parts of the country do not have as many options. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for investigating alleged discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other federal statutes. The agency has had a substantial backlog of cases for some time, but it remains to be seen whether the past year has added to their backlog of sexual harassment complaints.Workers who have experienced New York sexual harassment may be able to bring claims under three statutes:  Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Each of these laws considers sexual harassment to be a form of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. Agencies at the city and state levels handle complaints under city and state laws, respectively. The EEOC deals with complaints that cite Title VII or another federal anti-discrimination statute.

In order to file a lawsuit under Title VII, a worker must first file a complaint with the EEOC, known as a “charge.” The EEOC will investigate the charge to determine if it has merit. It will pursue a small number of cases on behalf of the complainants. In most cases, however, it will either rule that the charge lacks merit, or it will issue a “right to sue” letter to the complainant. This enables the complainant to file suit in federal court.

The most recent data regarding EEOC charges are from fiscal year 2017. The agency resolved more cases than it received during that year, reducing the overall backlog. It resolved a total of 99,109 charges, while receiving 84,254 new charges. About 25,000 new charges, or 30 percent of the total charges received, alleged sex discrimination in some form. The EEOC stated that nearly 6,700 of those charges alleged sexual harassment.

Fiscal year 2017 ended on September 30, 2017. The first news article of what would become #MeToo was published on October 5. The data from the EEOC therefore do not reflect any possible changes in the number of charges received after the #MeToo accounts went public. Various reports suggest that the number of charges may have increased since last October. At the same time, the EEOC has embarked on an effort to reduce its backlog of cases. Congress gave the agency some help in this regard, with $15 million in additional funding for fiscal year 2018.

The experienced and skilled sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers in claims for unlawful workplace practices like sex discrimination and sexual harassment under federal and state laws. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

EEOC Releases Proposed Revisions to Guidelines on Workplace Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 26, 2017

EEOC Files Suit Against Sandwich Shop Franchise for Alleged Sexual Harassment of Job Applicants, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 23, 2015

How the EEOC Defines Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 18, 2015

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