Job-discrimination claims at 20-year low: Are they poised to rebound in 2021?

With many workplaces emptied out in 2020, it's not surprising that the EEOC received fewer discrimination and harassment claims from U.S. employees. But the decline in worker claims to 67,448--a 20-year low and a decrease of 26% since 2016--is part of a broader trend during the Trump administration. Retaliation remained the most frequently cited claim, accounting for a staggering 55% of all charges filed. Retaliation has been the most common EEOC charge since 2009, largely because employees often add a retaliation complaint on top of discrimination and harassment claims. The COVID pandemic is likely to trigger even more retaliation complaints (see page 6).

Until 2018, race discrimination had been the most common bias charge. But then the #MeToo movement swept the workplace, making sex discrimination the leading charge. In 2019, disability discrimination took over as the most common charge, and that continued in 2020. In fact, disability bias was one of the few categories of claims that actually saw an increase from 2019 to 2020 (see below.)

While complaints trended down last year, the average EEOC complaint that made it to the courtroom ended up costing the employer $1.1 million.

Why the overall decline? One reason is that the EEOC was less receptive to employee complaints during the Trump years, and the agency didn't do as much outreach to...

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