EEOC Takes Aim at Discriminatory Business Practices

By Michael Klazema on 10/29/2020

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s purview isn’t limited to setting guidelines for hiring and publishing explainers on discrimination. The EEOC is an enforcement agency tasked with ensuring that businesses comply with employment law and treat all workers fairly. When companies run afoul of the law, it is often the EEOC that files suit against them. Sometimes, these suits are separate from the claims that past or current employees bring forward.

Recent EEOC actions in the courts reinforce the agency’s ability to win legal judgments against businesses acting unfairly. In Minnesota, an OTR logistics business agreed to accept a fine of $165,000 for firing a woman who failed an arbitrary strength test following a workplace injury. The EEOC successfully alleged that the physical requirements were unrelated to the job and that the company retaliated against the woman who raised the complaint. 

Retail giant Wal-Mart reached a similar settlement in September of 2020, agreeing to pay $20 million for using a physical test for workers filling online grocery orders. The EEOC alleged that the requirements unfairly restricted women from the job role while having little to do with the actual duties of the job. 

A trucking company faces an EEOC suit stemming from claims of discrimination against women dating to the 1980s. Over nearly 40 years, the EEOC claims, the business has hired virtually no women to drive trucks, deliberately prioritizing male drivers. The EEOC suit seeks financial damages, back pay, and a forced change of policies within the business.

Discrimination based on sex receives less attention today compared to advocacy for the formerly incarcerated, but its presence in the business world has not diminished in recent decades. The wide variety of suits brought by the EEOC makes that fact clear.

Many of the anti-discrimination statutes which apply to businesses focus on the hiring stage of employment, as it is the biggest source of discriminatory actions. Negative choices based on race, gender identity, irrelevant criminal records, and other factors act as significant bars to employment. Instituting a thorough, legally compliant vetting process that puts all applicants on an equal footing for consideration cannot be a business’s only efforts in this area.

Without strong anti-discrimination policies in the workplace and a culture that embraces “see something, say something,” businesses run the risk of exposure to legal liabilities. The use of physical abilities testing and other metrics to rule out an entire class of potential employees—or reduce their numbers after hiring—runs afoul of the EEOC. Employers must put the same level of care and attention into anti-discriminatory practices in the workplace as they implement at the hiring stage. 

While tools such as ongoing criminal background monitoring from are keeping your workplace safe, develop policies that ensure all candidates and employees receive fair and equal treatment. 

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