In an ‘Unusual’ Move, the U.S. Government Just Made a Surprising Announcement About What Happened After the #MeToo Movement
“I’ve never seen them do this before,” said a lawyer who deals with “them” constantly.
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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does good work, but it's rare that it makes big sweeping announcements about what it's been up to.
Late last week, they broke precedent, issuing a press release on the one-year anniversary of the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
You might call that date the birth of the #MeToo movement, and the main point of the agency's communication was to explain the numbers on how much more they're bringing sexual harassment cases.
The numbers are up, big time.
We'll go through them below. But first, The Washington Post reached out to lawyers who deal with the agency all the time, to figure out just how "unusual" it is for the agency to issue a report like this. Spoiler alert: Very "unusual."
"Seeing a separate press release related to sexual harassment data -- I've never seen them do this before," Christopher DeGroff, a labor and employment attorney with the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, who co-chairs the firm's "complex discrimination litigation" practice group, told the Post's Jena McGregor.
So here's what the EEOC has been up to. During fiscal year 2018, which basically coincides with the one-year #MeToo anniversary the EEOC:
- received 7,500 new harassment charges, which is a 12 percent jump over the year before
- filed 41 sexual harassment lawsuits including allegations of sexual harassment, which is a 50 percent jump over 2017 (out of 66 total lawsuits), and
- recovered $70 million through litigation and enforcement administration from miscreant employers, which is up from $47.5 million in 2017.
These numbers aren't gigantic, but should be seen as a "directionally accurate" reflection of the overall response in the age of #MeToo. That's because of three things.
First, EEOC lawsuits really are just the tip of the spear. Part of the whole raison d'etre of theagency is to have a government investigative process and a chance at mediation prior to civil lawsuits, so employers don't get swamped and claimants have someone to bring their complaints to.
Second, a lot of people also have to go through state administrative processes, and those state agencies might wind up acting instead of the federal agency.
But perhaps most importantly, this data that the EEOC is releasing seems to reflect only the lawsuits that the EEOC itself brings against employers.
The vast majority of employment discrimination cases are brought by private parties, using private lawyers (although they can only act after they've gone through the administrative process and received a "right to sue" letter from the government agency).
I know that's a lot of inside baseball, and I hope you're never in the position either to want to bring such a claim against an employer, or to defend one yourself.
But overall the data provides a big clue as to what one ultimate result of #MeToo might be. And that result seems to be: more claims, more settlements, more lawsuits.
Because when someone like Weinstein, or Kevin Spacey, or Bill O'Reilly or Scott Baio, or Travis Kalanick or Steve Wynn are accused of sexual harassment or even assault, it makes headlines.
But when potentially hundreds or even thousands of alleged victims seek their day in court, against companies and leaders whose names few others would even recognize, it can make a real difference. And it seems like that's exactly what's happening now.