At 50, EEOC sees value for risk managers in mediation program

By Cate Chapman on August 18, 2015

The chief operating officer of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that one of the greatest resources it can offer to risk managers is its mediation program.

She should know. Besides managing the day-to-day operations of the federal agency tasked with enforcing half a dozen anti-discrimination statutes, Cynthia Pierre focuses on professional performance management and the internal resolution of grievances by EEOC employees.

“We are not seeking to put businesses out of business,” Pierre told Advisen on the occasion of the agency’s 50th anniversary, “but to help them comply with the law and work with them to improve policies and procedures, and to make their workplaces as diverse and inclusive as possible.”

Also referred to as a charge-diversion program, the mediation offered to employers against whom complaints of discrimination have been brought is attracting the interest of others, including insurance specialists, Pierre said.

The program, as its other name suggests, has led to the resolution of complaints before they can become charges in 77 percent of cases, up from 65 percent in 1999, when it began, according to EEOC statistics. In the voluntary process, a trained mediator helps the charging party and employer reach a mutually acceptable resolution.

Reflecting on the last half century, Pierre, who returned to the commission this year as COO after serving as regional director in Atlanta for the US Dept. of Education, said her “biggest frustration” has been a lack of resources. She served as field management director for the EEOC previously.

“The best return on investment is when we are able to provide technical assistance,” Pierre told Advisen. “Employers don’t always know what the laws are. They are not unwilling to comply. It’s an education process.”

But, she added, “we are a small agency with limited resources,” whose staffing has contracted from 3,000 employees in 1982 to 2,000 employees today.

When the commission opened its doors on July 2, 1964, it received a few thousand complaints of workplace discrimination, Pierre said. The annual rate is now 9,000.

During this time, the EEOC acquired responsibility for Title VII of the signature 1964 Civil Rights Act that created the agency, the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1973, the 1979 Equal Pay Act, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008—a year in which the ADA, now in its 25th year, was also amended and significantly expanded.

“It’s been an accretion of enforcement responsibility at the same time that staffing has shrunk,” Pierre told Advisen. And it’s not over.

Last year, the EEOC began tracking complaints of hiring and employment discrimination on the basis of criminal background history; recently, it issued clarification that sex discrimination includes bias on the basis of orientation or transgender status.

Next on the commission’s agenda is likely to be “vulnerable workers,” Pierre said, referring to immigrants and agricultural workers, who are often unaware of what their rights against discrimination are.