According to a recent study, 61% of US workers have witnessed or experienced discrimination in the workplace. Cases brought forward to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), meanwhile, are the lowest they’ve been since 1992.
In 2019, only 72,675 charges were brought forward; that’s very close to 1992’s 72,302 cases, despite the fact that the number of workers has gone up. While the biggest spike in cases happened in 2010, 2011, and 2012, the general belief that workers have become more entitled and free to hold their employers accountable for workplace discrimination laws is anything but true.
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Understanding Employment Discrimination
But first, let’s start with a breakdown: What is job discrimination, and what was the EEOC created to do? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to uphold the laws and regulations of the federal government concerning workplace discrimination against both employees and applicants. These regulations include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, ADEA, ADA, GINA, Sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act, and Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These laws protect workers, apprentices, and applicants from discrimination in the application process, retaliation when an employee asserts their EEO rights, sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as discrimination-based firing, promotion, layoff, training, job placement, or pay. There are also other requirements for a workplace to provide equal opportunity to an employee; for instance, the ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation for a disabled worker.
Different Types of Discrimination in the Workplace
Let’s look at some more detailed workplace discrimination statistics to find out how frequently different types have been reported.
- Racial Discrimination: Statistics on racial discrimination in the workplace are a bit sobering:
- Racial discrimination makes up a third of all EEOC claims.
- There are fewer racial discrimination claims today than there were in 1992.
- These types of claims have fairly consistently declined since a peak in 2010.
- Age Discrimination: People age 40 or older are protected by the EEOC.
- These types of cases represent about a fifth (21.4%) of all cases.
- This type of claim was used far more in 1992 than today.
- Sex and Gender Discrimination: This type of discrimination includes sexual harassment as well as discrimination based on gender identity.
- Over the years, sex discrimination has consistently represented about a third of all claims.
- The EEOC has been seeing an increase in sexual harassment charges over the past few years.
- The “sex” umbrella has been applied to defend LGBTQ+ workers, but more laws in the future may be more helpful in protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- Disability Discrimination: Statistics on this do not represent the full number of ADA claims, as the EEOC only represents a portion of that law.
- There’s been a rise in claims of disability discrimination since the 1990s, starting at 17.4% in 1993 and growing to become the most frequent type of claim at 33.4%.
- Religious Discrimination: Religious discrimination is more rare but still protected by the EEOC.
- Religious discrimination claims have never risen to above 5% of all claims.
- In 2019, there were only 2,725 religious discrimination claims.
- Discrimination Due to an Employee’s Nation of Origin: Fear of immigrants and xenophobia may present themselves as workplace harassment, bullying, or prejudice.
- The worst years for this type of discrimination were between 2002 and 2016, potentially relating to the Iraq War and 9/11.
- Typically, this represents roughly 10% of claims.
- Color-Based Discrimination: Colorism is different than racism, in that people may be prejudiced based on a person’s specific skin tone. A darker-skinned Indian woman, for instance, may be treated differently than her lighter-skinned counterpart, despite the fact that they’re both Indian. African American people may also discriminate against each other in this way.
- This type of discrimination has been consistently rising.
- While it only represented about 0.5% of cases in 1992, today, there are more color-based claims than religious ones.
Other Employment Discrimination Laws
- Genetic Information Discrimination: GINA was introduced to the EEOC system in 2010 and represents a fraction of cases. It protects workers from decisions being made based on their genetic information.
- Retaliation: Retaliation workplace discrimination cases represent a huge portion of the EEOC’s workload, with more than 39,000 claims in one year. In 1992, it only represented roughly 11,000 cases. Retaliation is similar to OSHA’s whistleblower policies, involving a workplace retaliating against a worker for bringing up harassment, filing an EEO charge, requesting accommodations, or resisting sexual advances. Enacting consequences for an employee using their rights to speak up is, in general, a bad idea.
- Equal Pay Requirements: While equal pay between men and women is a requirement under the law, it represents roughly 1,000 claims every year.
While this “weak system” struggles to help America’s most vulnerable defend themselves against harassment and prejudice, the EEOC continues to be overwhelmed with claims and cases. Many people struggle without the help of a discrimination lawyer. Most successful EEOC complaints are won out of court in settlements, and most companies prefer discretion.
If you’ve been the victim of discrimination as a worker, applicant, or intern, consider calling an EEOC lawyer or filing a charge.