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Retaliation Claims Continue to Be Most Commonly Filed EEOC Charge

January 27, 2020

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released detailed breakdowns for the 72,675 charges of workplace discrimination the agency received in fiscal year 2019. Retaliation claims continue to be the most frequently filed charge filed with the agency, making up more than half of all claims filed.

This latest statistic highlights the risk employers face if they mishandle complaints of workplace discrimination because an employee potentially can have an actionable retaliation claim even if there is not necessarily underlying discrimination.

Title VII and other federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit punishing or retaliating against job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment. Asserting these rights is called "protected activity," and it can take many forms. For example, EEOC considers that it is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees for: (1) filing an EEOC Charge or being a witness in an EEOC charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit, (2) communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment, (3) answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment, (4) refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination, (5) resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others, or (6) requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice. Other acts to oppose discrimination are protected as long as the employee was acting on a reasonable belief that conduct in the workplace may violate anti-discrimination laws, even if he or she did not use legal terminology to describe it.

The data released by the EEOC shows the following breakdown of all charges filed in 2019:

  • Retaliation: 39,110 (53.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Disability: 24,238 (33.4 percent)
  • Race: 23,976 (33.0 percent)
  • Sex: 23,532 (32.4 percent)
  • Age: 15,573 (21.4 percent)
  • National Origin: 7,009 (9.6 percent)
  • Color: 3,415 (4.7 percent)
  • Religion: 2,725 (3.7 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 1,117 (1.5 percent)
  • Genetic Information: 209 (0.3 percent)

The percentages cited by the EEOC add up to more than 100 percent because some charges allege multiple bases.