How the EEOC keeps you and your EEO officer informed of the latest cases

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Equal employment law is constantly changing as new cases and new decisions occur. Courts decide some cases, the commissioners others. It’s a lot for EEO officers to keep up with. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission publishes a quarterly digest that makes it all, easier to digest. With how the process works, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Nina Andreu, the assistant director of the commission’s Special Operations Division.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Andreu, good to have you on.

Nina Andreu: Good morning.

Tom Temin: All right. Tell us about these quarterly digests. What do they digest and how do you decide what to digest in them?

Nina Andreu: Thank you Tom for the question. The EOC Digest is a publication that contains the summaries of significant federal sector decisions issued by the EEOC on appeal. The EOC Digest is issue four times each year at the end of each quarter. And each edition of the digest is called volume one, volume two, volume three, volume four. Volume one, for example, contains a compilation of significant or important decision from the prior fiscal year. And then volume two, three and four contains a summary of significant decision issues during the previous quarter. What we call significant decision is mostly decisions that include finding of discrimination, of course, a decision that includes a wide array of attorneys fee, compensatory damage, significant cases and procedural dismiss, like, for example, anything that’s related to fragmentation, decision involving class action, the most complex issues.

Tom Temin: Sure. And I guess these are both decided, some of the cases are decided by the commissioners of the EEOC, and some of these come in court cases.

Nina Andreu: No, we only publish the cases that come from the opposite federal operation, because we only address cases in the federal sector area.

Tom Temin: I see. And does EEO law in the federal sector differ that much from the private sector?

Nina Andreu: The law is basically the same, because we both deal with title seven under the Civil Rights Act, the ADA, Age and Employment Discrimination Act, Equal Pay Act. The big difference is in the way that the process of the case. In the private sector, they have to go to the EEOC for the notice of right to sue. In the federal sector, all federal employees need to initiate the process within their own agency, and they have to accept all the administrative remedies before going to the court. So while the law or the same law, the process to file discrimination complaint is different.

Tom Temin: Got it. And getting back to the issue of significant cases, give us a sense of how many cases come through in the federal sector through the federal operations office in a year and how many might end up being worthy of the digest.

Nina Andreu: There are hundreds of cases. In terms of the digest, the number vary every quarter. For example, volume two, three and four, usually they have between 40 and 45 cases. The last volume, volume two of fiscal year 2021 had 42 cases. But because volume one is the compilation of the whole previous year, usually they always are going to have more cases. Like volume one for fiscal year 2021 had 155 cases.

Tom Temin: And is a unusual case that makes it into the digest, is it because of the monetary amount that might be awarded? Or is it because of some detail, novel way of legal twists that might not have occurred earlier?

Nina Andreu: Can be both. For example, in the last digest, we have several cases of compensatory damages. For example, there was a case that we increased non pecuniary damages to $175,000. And because that’s not really common, its there. But also we have cases about significant finding of discrimination regarding disability discrimination retaliation. So we have both. The digest is always divided by topics. Do we have attorneys fees, for example, then all the cases regarded or related to attorney fees. Then you have another section about compensatory damages, then you have all the cases significantly where we award or increase the compensatory damage. And then we have the finding by section, finding because retaliation, finding because disability.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Nina Andreu, she is assistant director of the Special Operations Division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And do the digests simply reiterate the language that was used in the decision or do they somehow simplify it and explain why this is significant so that say a lay person could read it, because often these decisions are pretty tough to read if you’re not a lawyer? I think they’re tough to read if you are a lawyer.

Nina Andreu: No, we don’t make any analysis. What we do is provide a summary of the decision. We try to of course using the most simple way to summarize, and then in the summary you’re always gonna find the hyperlink so you can have access to the entire decision. But yeah, because the digest is for everybody in the EO community, every EO practitioner, and also for complainant, we try to summarize the case in the most simple possible way, just highlighting the most significant part of the case or why it’s so significant that case.

Tom Temin: And you have to be a lawyer to write the digest?

Nina Andreu: Yes, actually, in the Special Operations Division, we almost all are lawyers. So the ones that are responsible to review the cases and draft the summaries are all lawyers in the Special Operations Division.

Tom Temin: All right. And you mentioned there are different types of discrimination. There’s disability based discrimination, and there could be racial or gender based discrimination. And these go back as long as there’s been a government, there’s been discrimination, yet new cases keep coming forward. Does it ever strike you that, golly, how do people keep finding fresh ways to discriminate against one another?

Nina Andreu: I think, as you mentioned, we are with unfortunately, going to continue to encounter discrimination in the workplace. The positive thing that I see is the EEOC, we are working more and I think in eradicating discrimination, and then we have more finding and more finding, because the investigation, because all the file. And I think now, we are very proactive in terms of trying to prevent discrimination. And I think that that makes a big difference. More continue just take action when the discrimination occurred that of course we do, like compensatory damages sanction agencies. But now I think that the EEOC, and we through all our outreach and training, we have more in the proactive area to try to prevent discrimination.

Tom Temin: Sure. And of all the types of discrimination, what is the most common in terms of just numbers of cases? Do we know that?

Nina Andreu: I don’t have the last numbers, but I know that usually it’s age or retaliation. We have a lot of cases always of harassment. I think harassment has become very popular and an increase every year in harassment cases.

Tom Temin: And finally, the digest then is intended for EEO officers, or do you recommend other people read it and just stay on top of things in federal agencies?

Nina Andreu: Everybody can read it because regardless, of course if you are a lawyer, agency representative, or complainants attorney, it will be very beneficial for you to prepare for your case. But also I believe that every federal employee should read it because that provides you a good feel of what is your rights and responsibility as a federal employee. So I think that it helps provide a lot of guidance to all federal employees.

Tom Temin: I would say maybe the managers and executives should read it so they would know what not to do.

Nina Andreu: Definitely them.

Tom Temin: All right. Nina Andreu is the assistant director of the Special Operations Division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thanks so much for joining me.

Nina Andreu: Thank you for inviting me.

Tom Temin: And remember reprisal and disability topped the cases, so don’t do that.

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