seal.pngBy Christopher J. DeGroff and Matthew Gagnon 

On May 14, 2012, the EEOC announced that for the first time it will post private sector workplace discrimination charge statistics for each of the fifty states and the U.S. Territories for EEOC fiscal years 2009-2011 online. The data is available here

The EEOC’s new state-specific statistics provide the total number of charges filed in each state, as well as the percentage of total U.S. charges represented by each state. The EEOC also breaks out the charge data according to subject matter, including race, sex, national origin, religion, color, retaliation, age, disability, Equal Pay Act, and GINA. For each category, the EEOC’s new statistics show what percentage of all U.S. charges were filed by category and state, and what percentage of the total number of state charges are attributable to a given category.

This new data is qualitatively different than the statistics that the EEOC has published to date,  which until now had been limited to nationwide aggregated data. This is an important development as the EEOC is organized into 15 separate geographical districts that operate with significant autonomy as to their enforcement objectives and initiatives. In our view, the new state-specific data provides valuable insight into how enforcement varies across different districts (although those districts do not always follow state boundaries).

Even a high-level review of the data reveals some interesting trends. For example, the new data shows that Texas and Florida occupied the top two spots in terms of the raw number of discrimination charges brought in FY2009, FY2010, and FY2011. Indeed, Texas accounted for a full 10% of all national EEOC charge filings, and 15% of the country’s religion and national origin charges. South Dakota experienced the greatest uptick in discrimination charges from FY2009 to FY2011 (up 81% between 2009 to 2011), and Montana experienced the greatest decrease in charge filings (down 43% from 2009 to 2011). These are just a handful of notable trends that can be gleaned from the EEOC’s state-specific data.

Why is this so important for employers?  

As we mentioned in our recent blog post, employers are well advised to keep statistics concerning their own charge data.  With enough data, employers will be able to spot trends and potential vulnerabilities before they become a larger problem for the company.  The EEOC’s new state-specific statistics provide another benchmark against which employers can compare their charge data. If, for example, an employer’s statistics reveal that it is experiencing greater charge activity in a part of the country where such charges are relatively rare, this could signal a potential problem that the employer can address pro-actively.  Conversely, lower than expected charge activity in a given state may be an opportunity to analyze and emulate that operational unit’s success. Comparing this new data against employer trends can be a powerful element in strategic decision-making. 

The EEOC’s statistics also provide valuable insight into the EEOC’s agenda.  As we noted earlier this year, the EEOC set strategic goals for 2012-2016 that will drive its enforcement efforts over the next few years. Those priorities include outreach efforts to target groups that the EEOC believes have been traditionally underserved by the Commission. Although the EEOC does not directly control the flow of charges filed in a given state, the new state-specific data – particularly when viewed over time – could reveal where the EEOC’s outreach programs have been successful, and the subject-matter thrust of those programs. 

The value of state-specific data cannot be understated. Given the huge costs associated with defending against employment-related lawsuits, employers can now mine this data for geographical trends that might affect their bottom line. Although it is unlikely that employers will make strategic operational decisions based solely on the number of charges filed in a given state, it certainly is one element of a larger risk analysis. 

Ultimately, the EEOC’s new statistical data is a treasure trove of information from an agency that touts transparency, yet often keeps employers in the dark. The EEOC is a metrics-driven agency. Employers can better position themselves to avoid costly litigation by familiarizing themselves with the EEOC’s state-by-state data, and analyzing the trends that it reveals.