EEOC Approves Its Highly Anticipated Strategic Enforcement Plan – Adds Equal Pay to List of Nationwide Priorities

Contributed by Samantha Esmond

On September 10, 2012, we blogged about the EEOC’s proposed Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which had been released for public comment.

On December 18, 2012, the EEOC announced that it officially approved its highly anticipated SEP for 2013-2016 with bipartisan support. The EEOC’s press release can be accessed at: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/12-18-12a.cfm

According to the EEOC, the purpose of the SEP is “to focus and coordinate the EEOC’s programs to have sustainable impact in reducing and deterring discriminatory practices in the workplace.” Notably, the final version of the SEP has added “equal pay enforcement” to its list of national priorities.

The approved SEP identifies and highlights the following areas as national priorities:

  1. Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring;
  2. Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers;
  3. Addressing emerging and developing employment discrimination issues (such as certain ADA issues, including coverage, reasonable accommodation, qualification standards, undue hardship, and direct threat, accommodating pregnancy-related limitations under the ADAAA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions);
  4. Enforcing equal pay laws;
  5. Preserving access to the legal system; and
  6. Preventing harassment through systematic enforcement and outreach.

In addition to the above nationwide priorities, the SEP directs the 15 EEOC district offices to develop their own District Complement Plans by March 29, 2013, identifying, among other things, their own local enforcement priorities and describing how the district office will implement the SEP nationwide priorities.

It is also anticipated that the EEOC will take a more aggressive approach and give priority to systematic cases – those pattern or practice, policy, and/or class cases – where the alleged discrimination has a broad impact on a particular industry, occupation, business, or geographic area. While systematic cases generally involve a class of individuals, they may also originate from a single charging party alleging that an employment policy is discriminatory.

The approval of the SEP provides employers with insight into the types of issues the EEOC will likely target in the coming years. With the intensified investigative and enforcement efforts of the EEOC, employers will continue to face many challenges when responding to and defending against charges of discrimination.