EEOC Statistics Highlight the Continuing Impact of the #MeToo Movement
It has been just over a year since the New York Times published its first report regarding allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Hollywood rainmaker Harvey Weinstein. In the wake of the Times’ report, the social media usage and news coverage of the hashtag “MeToo” and its impact have been prolific. Twitter confirmed that over 1.7 million tweets were made with #MeToo by the end of November. Facebook confirmed that in the 24 hours after actress and activist Alyssa Milano encouraged others to tweet using the hashtag, 12 million posts included #MeToo and 45% of Facebook users had friends who posted the words. The 2017 reiteration of #MeToo (it was first introduced in 2009) trended in over 80 countries around the world.
Almost exactly one year later, on October 4, 2018, the EEOC announced its preliminary data for sexual harassment from the 2018 fiscal year which ended on September 30 (found here). Notably, the numbers show a 12% increase in sexual harassment claims from the same time period. In addition, this is the first increase in sexual harassment claims in a decade and comes at a time when the number of charges filed with the EEOC overall is decreasing. During the fiscal year 2018, the EEOC filed 66 harassment suits, 41 of which included allegations of sexual harassment – a 50% increase in suits alleging sexual harassment over the fiscal year 2017. The EEOC data showed the agency recovered nearly $70 million for victims of sexual harassment through litigation and administrative enforcement.
Signs of the EEOC’s focus on sexual harassment were present prior to the report, which we wrote about previously. However, the preliminary EEOC report for the fiscal year 2018 shows that the litigation trends from earlier in the summer were only part of the EEOC’s overall plan to combat sexual harassment. The EEOC has also been working to update its official guidance on sexual harassment, which has not been updated since 1990. While the guidance is still pending approval by the White House, the EEOC does have other resources available for employers, including two different training programs.
Many state and local governments have also focused their attention on sexual harassment in the past year. Illinois is one of fourteen states with some form of sexual harassment law in effect statewide. In particular, Illinois requires state employees and lobbyists to complete yearly training, restricts taxpayer funds from being used to fund severance agreements related to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination unless it is publicly disclosed, and requires training for all entities regulated by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. States are not the only ones passing anti-harassment measures. More and more municipalities are passing similar ordinances, including Chicago, whose ordinance requires vendors or contractors doing work for the city to have a written sexual harassment policy in place.
The increased awareness of and emphasis on sexual harassment in the post-#MeToo era indicates that litigation of sexual harassment claims will likely increase in the years to come. Employers should review their policies and practices to ensure they are up to date and comport with current EEOC guidance and applicable state and local laws. Additionally, we offered a number of suggestions for employers here and here. Being equipped to effectively respond to harassment complaints is the first step in avoiding litigation.