There’s good news for Minnesota in the latest annual report on workplace harassment and discrimination from the U.S. Economic Employment Opportunities Commission.
The report clearly shows a steady decline in charges against employers since 2009. Last year, in Minnesota, there were 982 charges of harassment and/or discrimination reported to the EEOC. That’s a decrease of 12 percent since 2012 and 81 fewer cases than in 2009. Moreover, there has been a steady decline in such cases in every category of issues handled by the EEOC.
For 2013, here is a breakdown of the number of cases reported in those issue categories: race 349, sex 245, national origin 114, religion 37, color 29, retaliation by employers 554, age 260, disability 358 and pay issues 17. Those numbers add up to more than the 982 total because in some cases, individuals filed charges in more than one category.
Nationally, too, there has been progress. In 2013, there were 93,727 charges nationwide, a 5.7 percent decrease from the 99,412 charges received in 2012.
Among all charges, alleged retaliations by employers against employees was the most common charge (38,539, or 41 percent of all charges). Such retaliation can include firings of employees because they reported the employers did something illegal or unethical; or for other things employers might have said or done that angered employees. The next most-common charges were in the categories of race discrimination, sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and pregnancy) and discrimination due to disabilities. Of course, we should remember not all charges reported are necessarily true.
However, we can safely assume the steady decline in charges filed against employers indicates an improved, more enlightened and healthier work climate by and large. It’s obvious that widespread educational efforts, a growing respect for others and a rejection of all types of discrimination and harassment is taking hold and paying off in the workplace. Like all good changes, such as seat-belt use, the fight against workplace injustices has taken time. There is still progress to be made, but it’s heartening to know Minnesota and the nation are heading in a good direction.
Local, state and federal agencies deserve much credit for this. By wielding enforcement powers, they have reminded people, through lawsuits and fines, that discriminatory actions are not only illegal but unwise. Those kinds of reminders filter down, slowly but surely, and they help to change, for the better, healthy, productive and mutually respectful workplace relationships among employers and employees.
In 2013, the EEOC resolved 209 lawsuits, resulting in $39 million in monetary benefits to victims of illegal discrimination, plus wide-ranging injunctive relief against the offenders. Lawsuits filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the most common (78) followed by lawsuits filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (51).
Some sweet day, we can hope, that after more enforcement efforts and more personal enlightenment, there will be virtually discrimination-free workplaces far and wide for one and all. And just maybe, who knows?, a discrimination-free society, period.