However, the law does not allow an employer to fire an employee for discriminatory reasons which violate the state and federal rights of its workers, even if the employment relationship is at-will. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) data revealed that employment discrimination claims reached record heights for 2010. Analysts suggest that there are several explanations for the rise in discrimination reports.
The EEOC is the government agency responsible for enforcing such laws as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination Employment Act. The EEOC received 99,922 complaints from employees in 2010, up from 93,277 in 2009. For the first time ever, reports of retaliatory firing exceeded race discrimination as the most common type of discrimination complaint. Retaliation complaints allege that an employer fired an employee or treated the employee differently for lodging a complaint about discrimination.
Not only did the amount of complaints to the EEOC increase, but the EEOC also saw a record number of merit resolutions in 2010, with 20,149. The EEOC categorizes merit resolutions as charges with merit that have a favorable resolution to the employee filing the charge, such as negotiated settlements, withdrawals with benefits, successful conciliations and unsuccessful conciliations. Merit resolution statistics do not include those cases that went to litigation.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, EEOC spokeswoman Justine Lisser offered a variety of reasons explaining the rise that the commission saw in discrimination reports. One of the main reasons is the poor economy. In the past, if people were being treated badly at one job, they would just walk away from the job to a different one. However, with the lack of available jobs, more people do not have the option of leaving their current jobs and choose to file complaints about discrimination instead.
Lisser credits EEOC education and outreach programs with making people more aware of their workplace rights, which also explains part of the upswing in discrimination complaints. Amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act that took effect in September 2009 making it easier for employees to succeed in disability discrimination claims also motivated more people to file complaints.
It does not appear that complaints of employment discrimination will drop off any time soon. According to the complaints that the EEOC has already received in 2011, the current year looks to be another record-setting year for employment discrimination claims. The continued growth of discrimination complaints shows that the issue is one that many people still struggle with in the U.S., despite the laws that protect employee's rights.
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