North Carolina in Top 10 for EEOC complaints
By Cash Michaels From The Carolinian
The good news is when it comes to workplace harassment and racial, sexual or religious discrimination, North Carolina is improving. But the bad news is the Tar Heel state ranks sixth in the United States for the number of total workplace complaints (Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Illinois are the top five), which means it still has a long way to go.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the federal agency tasked to both monitor complaints and enforce anti-discrimination laws – in 2013, the last year that data was gathered, North Carolina had 4,453 total harassment/discrimination charges (4.8 per-cent of the total national number), down 6 percent from 2012.
In the past five years since 2009, according to the EEOC, 2010 logged in the highest number of statewide EEOC complaints at 5,219, while the 2013 numbers are the lowest.
Still, broken down by race, sex, national origin and other categories, North Carolina’s EEOC complaints paint a troubling picture of workplace bias
There were 1,748 harassment/discrimination complaints based on race in North Carolina in 2013, or 39.3 percent of total state charges, .1 percent more than in 2012, even though the actual number of complaints in 2012 was higher at 1,874.
There were also 80 EEOC charges of discrimination based on color in 2013 (down .5 percent); 1,278 based on sex (down .3 percent); 355 per national origin (down .6 percent); 190 discrimination charges based on religion (up .5 percent); 1,252 based on disability (up 3 per-cent); 37 alleged violations of the Equal Pay Act (down .2 percent), and 849 based on age discrimination (up .1 percent).
Because federal law does not protect sexual orientation, there is no record of gay employees filing EEOC complaints based on any harassment or discrimination, though experts says it certainly happens.
In many cases, aggrieved employees are punished for filing EEOC charges. In fact, employer retaliation for filing an EEOC complaint in North Carolina is 42.4 percent, the highest it’s been since 2009, when it was 33.3 percent.
According to Jimmy Lin, vice president of Product Management and Corporate Development at The Network, a Georgia-based research company specializing in integrated governance, risk and compliance solutions, retaliation isn’t always easy to prove.
“Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity,” Lin says. “Retaliation can include any negative job action, such as demotion, discipline, firing, salary reduction, or job or shift reassignment, but retaliation can also be more subtle.
“Sometimes it’s clear that an employer’s action is negative – for instance, when an employee is fired. But sometimes it’s not. In those cases, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, you must consider the circumstances of the situation. For example, a change in job shift may not be objectionable to a lot of employees, but it could be very detrimental to a parent with young children and a less flexible schedule.”
EEOC also accepts harassment/discrimination complaints based on genetic information. In 2013, there were 17 complaints in North Carolina based on Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).
“Under Title II of GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information,” Lin says. “The law forbids discrimination on the basis of genetic information when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment. An employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision because genetic information is not relevant to an individual’s current ability to work.”
Because the percentage of EEOC charges in North Carolina has dropped since 2009, Lin maintains, the message of equal treatment in the workplace is getting through to employers.
“Businesses are putting more time and thought into their employee training programs to ensure employees understand what harassment and discrimination is and what they should do if an incident occurs. Instilling strong ethics in employees from day one is crucial in establishing an ethical workplace that’s free of harassment and discrimination,” Lin says. “Preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace needs to start with a solid code of conduct and anti-harassment policy that includes step-by-step instructions on what to do if an employee learns of violations to that policy.”