By Meghan Droste, October 16, 2019
Like many other large organizations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues strategic plans every few years to highlight institutional goals and identify ways in which it hopes to achieve them. During a recent webinar on EEO updates, I highlighted some of the points from the Commission’s Federal Sector Complement to its Strategic Enforcement Plan for FY 2017-2021. As laid out in the plan, the Commission’s priorities include eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, protecting vulnerable workers, and addressing emerging and developing issues.
While I encourage you to review all of the Commission’s priorities to get an insight on the types of cases it will be focusing on in the federal sector, I want to draw your attention in particular to the priority of preserving access to the legal system. For the federal sector, the Commission highlighted that this priority includes improving federal employees’ faith in the integrity of the EEO process.
What does this mean in practice? It means the Commission is going to start sanctioning agencies more. As noted in the report, “[w]hen Federal agencies repeatedly ignore regulatory requirements to provide files, conduct timely investigations, fail to meet hearing deadlines, etc. and are not held accountable, it erodes employee faith in the EEO program and discourages employees and applicants from accessing the system.” The Commission also noted that it will be on the lookout for “repeat offenders” and considering program evaluations and issues notices of non-compliance to these agencies.
You should, of course, be concerned about meeting deadlines and upholding the integrity of the process just on principle. But if you need a little more incentive in light of the Commission’s stated goal of increased enforcement, consider that default judgment can result in awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars for complainants who never have to prove liability. See, e.g., Dionne W. v. Dep’t of Air Force, EEOC App. No. 0720150040 (2018) (awarding $185,000 in compensatory damages and $155,050 in attorney’s fees); Lauralee C. v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., EEOC App. No. 0720150002 (2017) (awarding $200,000 in non-pecuniary damages, $223,116.35 in pecuniary damages, and $122,150 in attorney’s fees).
I recommend you calendar every deadline and triple check that they are met, including the uploading of files before a judge is even assigned to the case. If not, you may find yourself explaining why your agency is on the hook for a six-figure award. [email protected]