On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a public meeting to solicit input as the agency finalizes its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). The SEP is a component of the EEOC’s larger Strategic Plan for 2012-2016, approved on February 22, 2012, which includes three elements: (1) strategic enforcement, with increased focus on systemic discrimination claims and increased litigation of systemic cases; (2) education and outreach, including partnering with various stakeholders; and (3) improving operations, particularly focusing on quality control efforts among its offices around the country.
The EEOC’s current plan is to issue its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) no later than September 30, 2012 and follow up with a secondary report in approximately February 2013 that addresses quality control efforts for concerns raised regarding investigations and other issues.
The day-long July 18 meeting included four separate “roundtables” during which more than 30 representatives from the business community, federal sector, civil rights organizations, academia, and current and former EEOC members spoke about the SEP’s goals. In addition, EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien noted that the agency had received 80 submissions in response to the agency’s request for comments on a proposed SEP, and that the agency would leave the record open until August 2, 2012 to gather additional input.
Topics that generated a significant amount of discussion at the meeting included:
- The issue of increased centralized control versus maintaining local authority over investigations and litigation.
- The Commission’s Priority Charge Handling Procedures (PCHP) adopted in 1995, in which charges are classified as “A,” “B,” and “C” charges (with the “A” charges receiving the closest attention as possible systemic investigations and/or “reasonable cause” findings). The discussion suggested that further clarification might be needed in classifying charges for purposes of investigation and how the multitude of charges classified as “B” charges should be handled.
- Conflicting suggestions as to what should be the EEOC’s top priorities. One panelist recommended that the EEOC engage in broad-based requests for pay data from employers and perform periodic audits to address this issue, as the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) does for federal contractors. A separate panelist suggested that the EEOC focus on “strategic targets” – particular industries in which “egregious” discrimination is found. Yet another panelist argued in favor of greater oversight of the investigation process.
- Members of the final panel – which included current EEOC officials at the national and district level – questioned the wisdom of any directive from the Commission that would limit the delegation of authority and prosecutorial discretion by local EEOC leadership. The EEOC’s Deputy General Counsel expressed concern that the issues to be focused on as part of the systemic initiative could result in a “disincentive” to pursue claims warranting litigation at the local level. Another member of this panel called for more collaboration among field offices.
- As for the lack of consistency in approaches taken by various EEOC regional offices nationwide, one regional attorney cautioned against mandating consistent practices among EEOC offices, viewing the various regional approaches as “a strength.” She took the view that there are cultural differences, histories, dynamics, and practices by the private bar. On the other hand, one of the district directors underscored the importance of collaboration, be it lending support or expertise to another office, or addressing practices involving the same employer that are being investigated by two different offices.
- A union representative from the National Council of EEOC Locals expressed concern about the EEOC’s focus on “numbers.” She cited the EEOC’s focus on systemic investigations as an example, and questioned whether “forcing a fit” was an effective approach.
Over the coming weeks, the Commission will be analyzing the comments made at the July 18 meeting and additional comments submitted as they try and take into account the various interests and concerns raised as they finalize and implement the Commission’s new Strategic Enforcement Plan.
For a more detailed discussion of the EEOC meeting, see Littler's ASAP: EEOC Seeks Input on Developing Strategic Enforcement Plan.
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