Trials & Litigation

EEOC won record $372M in settlements last year, despite filing fewer employment-discrimination suits

The federal agency charged with overseeing the pursuit of employment discrimination claims throughout the country has had some setbacks during the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2013.

But despite a drop in the number of complaints, which topped out around 100,000 a few years ago and dropped to some 94,000 last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission negotiated $372 million in settlements, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports.

Many claims are filed by individual workers, and the EEOC itself tends to take on bigger cases that involve an entire company or an important legal principle. However, critics contend that the EEOC is too aggressive in pursuing dubious contentions.

“The EEOC is engaging in these overreaching, open-ended investigations that go beyond the individual charge of discrimination or issue they’re investigating,” litigator Charles F. Knapp of Faegre Baker Daniels told the newspaper, contending that this approach is “causing employers across the country incredible expense and unnecessary business disruption.”

The EEOC was hit with a $4.7 million attorney fee award in one case, in which the respondent was represented by Jenner & Block.

However, Steven Pearlman, who serves as the co-chief of Proskauer Rose’s whistle-blowing and retaliation practice group, said the EEOC makes effective use of a not quite $400 million annual budget, which is small by federal standards, through the pursuit of big cases, the Wall Street Journal reports.

And the EEOC’s general counsel, P. David Lopez, said the agency isn’t afraid to make some mistakes. “When we experience litigation losses, as with our victories, we hold ourselves accountable and seek to glean lessons learned in order to move our mission forward,” he said last month in a published response to criticism by Knapp. Overall, Lopez wrote, the EEOC’s litigation efforts have “helped the country move in the right direction.”

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