By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr.Christopher J. DeGroff, Matthew J. Gagnon, and Ala Salameh

Seyfarth Synopsis: On November 19, 2019, the EEOC released its inaugural “Agency Financial Report” (“AFR”)  for Fiscal Year 2019 (here). Substantively, the AFR is a data compilation regarding the EEOC’s financial health, initiatives, and guiding principles. The AFR is an important guide to how the EEOC spent its budget in FY 2019, and is therefore a useful harbinger of the Commission’s strategic direction and enforcement priorities in FY 2020 and beyond.

An EEOC led by its new Chair, Janet Dhillon, is starting to make some changes. One of those changes was released today in the form of the EEOC’s inaugural Agency Financial Report (“AFR”), which replaces the combined Performance Accountability Report (“PAR”) that used to be published in November of each year. The EEOC explains in the 2019 AFR that it has decided to separate the information that had been contained in the combined PAR into two separate reports.

The AFR will continue to be published in November and will focus on financial results and a high-level discussion of performance results. A new Annual Performance Report (“APR”) will be published in February 2020 in coordination with the EEOC’s Congressional Budget Justification. The APR will report on the EEOC’s progress achieving the goals and objectives in the agency’s Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan, which is issued as part of the OMB’s budget request, along with performance and program results achieved for the previous fiscal year. Until the APR is published in February, we must look to the AFR as the most reliable guide to how the EEOC’s new leadership views the agency’s mission and intends to reach its goals for the coming year.

FY 2019: Political Developments Impact The EEOC

The EEOC leadership is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, which inherently ties the Commission to the shifting political climate in Washington (see more here). The EEOC’s leadership includes the Chair, Vice Chair, and three Commissioners. Of the five members, there must be at least three acting Commissioners to satisfy quorum and exercise their powers. A vacancy was created due to the departure of Commissioner Feldblum, the first openly gay Commissioner, who was not re-confirmed by the Senate due to her perceived positions on LGBT rights issues. As a result, the Commission lacked quorum between January 2, 2019 and May 15, 2019. Because of the lack of quorum and the 35-day government shutdown, the Commission experienced a marked decline in filings across the nation relative to years prior, the impacts of which pervade the discussion of the EEOC’s financial performance in the AFR.

A Slight Drop In Recoveries

During FY 2019, the EEOC recovered more than $486 million for alleged discrimination victims. This represents a 4% decrease from $505 million in FY 2018 (see more here), and is roughly on par with the $484 million recovered during FY 2017 (see more here). In particular, the relief obtained through mediation, conciliation, and settlement declined from $354 million in FY 2018 to $347 million in FY 2019. Further, litigation recoveries dropped to $39.1 million in FY 2019 from $53.6 million in FY 2018 (the FY 2017 and 2016 numbers were $42.4 million and $52.2 million respectively).

Progress Reducing The Charge Backlog

Since FY 2017, the EEOC has made concerted efforts to process the significant backlog of pending charges. Despite the 4-month period when the EEOC lacked a quorum during FY 2019, those efforts remained strong. During FY 2018, Acting Chair Lipnic honored her commitment by addressing the backlog and reported a 19.5% decrease from FY 2017. In FY 2019, the Commission reduced the charge workload by an additional 12.1%. Because of these compounded initiatives, the total number of pending private sector charges was 43,850 – the lowest reported backlog number in 13 years. The ability to continue to drive down the backlog during FY 2019 was attributed, in part, to technological advances, including modernization of the Public Portal, Respondent Portal, and Digital Charge System. Collectively, these tools allow charging parties to self-screen their concerns and determine which federal agency is best suited to address their concerns.

Prioritizing Education & Outreach

One of the Commission’s six strategic enforcement priorities is preserving access to the legal system. In its FY 2019 Congressional Budget Justification (here), the EEOC indicated it would pursue greater access through education and outreach. The EEOC conducts both free and fee-based events targeting particularly vulnerable communities that may be unfamiliar with employment law protections (e.g., low-skilled workers, new immigrant workers, etc.). This year, the White House launched the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (“WHIHBCU”), and the Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (“WHIAPPI”). In conjunction with the White House programs, the EEOC hosted 76 outreach events in concert with WHIHBCU programs drawing in 6,987 attendees, and 142 WHIAPPI events with 22,526 attendees. Further, roughly one third of the total outreach targeted vulnerable workers and underserved communities, amounting to 1,298 outreach events involving 112,410 participants. The EEOC reports that it prioritizes strong outreach efforts, particularly to disenfranchised workers, to promote greater understanding and communication between the Commission and the U.S. labor force.

Implications For Employers

Despite the ongoing political upheaval this year, the EEOC remains committed to pursuing its mission and increasing enforcement activity. Our fiscal year-end analysis, and the EEOC’s own AFR, reflect the EEOC’s continuing commitment to robust efforts to quickly process charges, bring and pursue enforcement litigation, and obtain litigation and settlement recoveries on behalf of workers. We will continue to monitor trends and developments in the EEOC’s mission, including the types of cases that are filed and how the agency chooses to fight those lawsuits in court. As we do every year, we look forward to providing you an in-depth look at those trends and developments in January.

Readers can also find this post on our Workplace Class Action blog here.