Federal job discrimination complaints hit record
WASHINGTON – A record number of workers filed federal job discrimination complaints last year, with claims of unfair treatment by older employees seeing the largest increase.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday it received more than 95,000 discrimination claims during the 2008 fiscal year, a 15 percent increase over the previous year.
Charges of age discrimination jumped by 28.7 percent — with 24,582 claims — while allegations based on race, sex and retaliation also surged to record highs.
"The EEOC has not seen an increase of this magnitude in charges filed for many years," said the commission's acting chairman, Stuart J. Ishimaru. "While we do not know if it signifies a trend, it is clear that employment discrimination remains a persistent problem."
With the economy in recession and companies shedding millions of jobs, labor experts suggested that older workers may have suffered a disproportionate hit. Federal laws barring age discrimination cover workers 40 and older.
"The economy is in meltdown mode and from the point of view of the company, if you lay off an older worker, the cost savings to you are much greater than if you lay off a younger worker," said Eileen Appelbaum, visiting scholar at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Allegations of race discrimination remained the most frequently filed complaint, accounting for 33,937 charges, or 35.6 percent of all filings last year. That was an 11 percent jump from 2007.
Retaliation was the second most frequent complaint, up 22.6 percent from the previous year. Sex discrimination complaints rose by 14 percent.
The agency says the overall surge could be due to a variety of factors, including economic conditions, increased diversity in the work force, greater employee awareness of the law and the EEOC's focus on systemic litigation.
And the number of claims could rise even further, said EEOC spokesman David Grinberg. Since the current data is through Sept. 30 of last year, the numbers may not fully reflect the impact of the recession.
Once a claim is filed, the EEOC has 180 days to investigate. If the agency finds merit, officials usually try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If no settlement is reached, the EEOC or the worker may file a separate lawsuit.
In fiscal 2008, the EEOC filed 290 lawsuits, resolved 339 lawsuits and resolved 81,081 private sector charges.