So a few weeks back, I suggested that we were entering into a new era of sexual harassment cases and wondered out loud when the statistics would back up my observations.

We now have our first signs.  Maybe.

In my exclusive continued look at the case statistics from the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, we can see the first signs of an increase.

But as I’ll explain below, it’s difficult to know if this is a statistical anomaly.

Despite significant drops in most types of discrimination complaints, the number of sexual harassment complaints in Connecticut went up last fiscal year to 145, up from 135 the year before.

As a percentage of overall claims, sex harassment employment claims are just 3 percent of the overall claims filed, up from 2.5 percent the prior year.

But here’s the issue: When you look back at prior fiscal years in 2014 and 2015, the number of sex harassment claims is still below those years.

In other words, is it a trend up? Or overall down? Indeed, the numbers from FY 2012 are comparable to FY 2017’s numbers. Except that as a percentage, there were more sex harassment claims made 5 years ago, then now (3.6% to 3.0).

What else do we see? Well, as expected with an overall drop in cases is an drop in claims of wrongful discharge, refusal to provide reasonable accommodations, terms and conditions, and even demotions.

Remaining constant were claims for failure to promote, termination of employment due to pregnancy, and aiding & abetting discrimination.

When you review the basis for claims filed, we see drops in claims for age (FY 2017 451 vs FY 2016 518), race (551 vs 616), sex (507 vs 532) and physical disability (445 vs 520).

Some other bases hold steady or even slightly increase: ancestry claims (200 vs 188) and mental disability claims (103 vs. 110).

For employers, watch the trends. Will sex harassment claims continue to increase? And will overall claims decline?

There’s more that we can glean from these numbers too. I’ll have more in an upcoming post.

 

 

Through a recent FOI request, I was able to take a peek at the latest case statistics coming out of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. (The CHRO has since added them to the website as well.)

I’ve done these recaps in years before (here’s 2016 for example) and I think you can learn a lot not just on the latest statistics but when you compare them to prior years.

So, what do the numbers from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 show?

Well, for the first time in several years, we’ve seen a noticeable decrease in the numbers of complaints filed.

In FY 16-17, 2376 total complaints were filed, down from 2616 the prior year – a 9 percent decrease.  Of course, it’s still up from FY 11-12 when just 1838 total complaints were filed.

And what about employment discrimination complaints in particular?

The report also shows a drop in the number of complaints being filed, 1936, as compared to 2160 in the prior fiscal year.  That represents over a 10 percent drop. Again, however, it’s still up from FY 2012 when just 1559 employment claims were filed.

After years of marked increases, it’s nice to confirm what we have been seeing internally — that discrimination claims seems to be on the decline.

It’s difficult to know exactly why; we had seen increases the last few years at a national EEOC level too, but these new statistics from the CHRO show that the trendline up has finally broken.

Certainly the improved economy seems one factor but it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues.

I’ll have a deeper dive into the statistics in an upcoming post.

numbersThis week, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a self-described “free market” think tank, issued an article suggesting that Connecticut had nearly the same number of discrimination complaints as our neighboring state, Massachusetts.

(This isn’t the first time it’s been critical of the CHRO.)

In doing so, the Yankee Institute claimed that these statistics raise “questions as to whether Connecticut is simply more litigious or if the policies at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities are encouraging more claims.”

The basis for its analysis is a raw look at the statistics of claims filed — something I covered way back in December 2016 in two posts here and here.

I noted back then that the statistics only told part of the story and unfortunately here, the Yankee Institute’s arguments fall into this trap of relying too heavily on just a few statistics.

For example, yes, discrimination complaints have risen in the last few years as the Yankee Institute argues, but the types of complaints being filed are changing.  The Yankee Institute’s article lumps them all together as if they are fungible.

For example, as I noted in December: If you look at the claims involving termination of employment, there were 1216 filed in FY 2016, which is actually down from historical peaks in 2003, when there were 1385 such claims.

Instead, a different type of claim is being filed over the last 15 years — with huge increases in the “terms and conditions” area.

That is, employees who claim that they are being discriminated against in the “terms and conditions” of their employment when it comes to things like hiring, promotions and pay.  It could also mean an employer is not approving leaves, or granting breaks or any other term or condition of employment, however small.

In 2003, there were 411 such claims filed.  In 2014, there were 782.  By FY 2016, however, that number has skyrocketed to 1056!

In my mind, that likely means that more current employees are bringing discrimination claims against their employers.

chro99This is bolstered by a look at the “harassment” statistics. Notably, I’m not talking about sexual harassment claims, which continue to trend noticeably downward.  Just 135 such claims were filed in FY 2016, down from 185 the prior year and the lowest number by far in the 15+ years of available data.

Instead, this is a catch all claim for “I’m harassed” because of some other reason.  Just 175 such claims were filed in 2003, though that number was up to 380 in 2014.  For FY 2016, that number is up to 545.

That’s a more than 210% increase in over a decade!

Is the CHRO to blame for this trend? Without more critical analysis, I am hesitant to place the blame on the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Anecdotally, I hear more arguments that employees are throwing around the phrase “hostile work environment” — not understanding that having a difficult boss is not illegal harassment.

The Yankee Institute’s article is also critical of the CHRO’s closure rate for “No Reasonable Cause” at 54 percent, compared to 87 percent of the Massachusetts claims closed for a lack of probable cause.

The CHRO issued a statement of their own on Facebook this week, with its own explanation for the discrepancy:

Many companies in Connecticut choose to resolve those matters prior to going through the full investigation process, by mediating those claims. Mediation works to the benefit of both parties, allowing for faster resolution and less time and money spent on investigations. These cases are frequently closed in fewer than six months from filing.

Here too, I think there is a danger than just looking at the numbers.  Both sides have some merit to their arguments.

As the Yankee Institute correctly notes, complaints ARE more costly and employers sometimes feel that they should pay something on even meritless claims to avoid the cost of litigation.

But the CHRO can also point to the fact that it has been dismissing more cases of late on Early Legal Intervention, giving employers more opportunities to avoid the cost of the CHRO process.  And the CHRO has been using mediation more effectively in the past — even if cases are getting through Case Assessment Review that probably shouldn’t.

Statistics are helpful; but when a state agency or a think tank starts using the numbers without providing context, reader beware.

chro2In yesterday’s post, I talked about how employment claims being filed are up big at the CHRO.

Indeed, in looking at the statistics further, I realized that it is the second highest number of claims being filed in the last 15 years.

So, FY 2015 was a very big year for claims.

But typically, in an improving economy, claims go down.  At least that’s the prevailing wisdom. So, what gives?

I wondered if the statistics could help explain the increase further?

In part, yes.

abacusIf you look at the “discharge” claims — that is, the claim that “I was fired because of discrimination” — those claims are basically the same (1174 for FY 2015 vs. 1164 in 2014.)

Compared with 2003 – the peak year for employment claims at 2211 — discharge claims are actually down substantially.  Indeed, in 2003, there were 1385 claims.  Thus, discharge claims are actually down 15 percent since 2003.

So, where are these claims coming from? One is from an obvious source: Retaliation claims.

In 2003, there were 516 claims filed. In 2014, 625. And in 2015, 753.  A 46 percent increase in the last decade or so and 20 percent over the last year alone.

Another is from a not so obvious source: from the “terms and conditions” area.  That is, employees who claim that they are being discriminated against in the “terms and conditions” of their employment when it comes to such things as hiring, firing, promotions, and pay. It also means an employer may not discriminate, for example, when granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment – however small.

In 2003, there were 411 such claims filed. In 2014, 782. And in FY2015 —  a spike to 941.  That translates to a 130 percent increase in such claims over the last 12 years and 20 percent over the last year alone.

In my mind, that means that many current employees are bringing discrimination claims against their employers based on the terms and conditions of their employment.

One other source? Harassment claims.  Notably, I’m not talking about sexual harassment claims which are actually down from last year and down 24 percent from 2003.

Instead, this is the catch all claim for “I’m harassed” because of some other reason.  503 claims were filed in FY 2015 vs. 380 in 2014 and just 175 in 2003.  That’s an increase of nearly 190 percent in the last 12 years and 32 percent last year alone!

Again, these are typically brought by current employees who may be dissatistifed with things at work and believe that they are being “harassed” by their supervisor.

Indeed, the notion of “workplace bullying” movement is premised, at least in part, on this idea.

So, what’s the takeaway here? You may be looking for claims in the wrong spot. Dismissal claims are fairly constant, but it is claims by current employees that are up substantially over past years.

And while we’ve talked about the increase in retaliation claims for many years, but harassment and “terms & conditions” claims are now the hot areas — at least in Connecticut.

Is there anything else to be gleaned from the statistics? Any other reasons why we’re seeing an increase? Stay tuned for the next post.

Numbers everywhere
Numbers everywhere

As I noted on Friday, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities has, at long last, released case statistics for 2014-2015 fiscal year and has updated their statistics for the last several years.

As a result, there are lots of new numbers to pore over and information to be gleaned.

The biggest takeaway? The number of discrimination complaints filed with the agency is up — and up big over the last few years.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, 2482 complaints were filed state-wide, up from 2172 the year before and up from a low of 1838 just three years ago.

For those playing at home, that translates to a whopping 35% increase in discrimination complaints from FY2012 to FY2015.

Now, not all complaints filed with the CHRO are employment-related. But even those employment discrimination complaints are also up big.  In FY2015, 2017 employment complaints were filed, up from 1817 the year prior and up from 1559 three years ago.

Thus, employment complaints are up 29 percent in the past three years, and up 11 percent in the last year alone.

Given the improving economy and the corresponding drop in claims at the federal level, these state statistics are pretty surprising.

Diving deeper in the numbers, raises more eyebrows.  Where is this increase coming from?

  • Age claims? 503 in 2014 vs. 505 in 2015. Nope.
  • Sexual orientation claims? 62 in 2014 vs. 51 in 2015. A decrease.
  • Sex claims? 544 in 2014 vs. 575 in 2015. A modest increase.
  • Physical disability? 450 in 2014 vs. 484 in 2015. Again a modest increase.

But a few areas stand out:

  • Ancestry? 133 in 2014 vs. 189 in 2015. A huge increase of 42 percent!
  • Color? 409 in 2014 vs. 480 in 2015. Another big increase of over 17 percent.
  • Race? 538 in 2014 vs. 596 in 2015.  An increase of 11 percent, consistent with the overall trend.
  • National origin? 218 in 2014 vs. 258 in 2015.  A corresponding increase of over 18 percent.

Thus, while the statistics can only tell part of the story, it is apparent that claims for race, color, ancestry and national origin all account for a substantial part of the increase.

What does this mean for employers? What else can we glean from the statistics? Why are complaints going up in a relatively good economy?

I’ll tackle these questions and more in upcoming posts.

The U.S. Department of Labor has released their annual statistics on labor union membership.  Nationwide, union membership is down slightly by .2 percent. In total, about 11 percent of the workforce belongs to a union.  Compared to 2008, when I reported on these statistics, the number is down by a full percentage point.

The numbers for Connecticut tell a slightly different story.  Back in 2006, 246,000 people belonged to a union or 15.6 of the workforce.  But the percentage went up during the recession as unemployment rates skyrocketed.  By 2010, the percentage of union represented employees was up to 17.4 percent, even though the raw numbers of people represented by unions decreased markedly.

Where do things stand now? Unions seem to be making a comeback in the state last year.  Union representation for 2013 stood at just 220,000 people, or 14.3 percent of the workforce. Last year, in 2014, however, that number skyrocketed to 245,000, or 15.7 percent of the workforce.

We can put the statistics in another way: In 2014, union representation in Connecticut last year increased by over 10 percent. That’s a big gain by any measure.  But it still just gets the unions back to where they stood in 2006.

Before we draw too many conclusions, however, I’m still having a hard time having faith in the numbers.  Connecticut released its own private sector employment numbers (without regard to union membership.)

For 2014, approximately 25,700 jobs were created in the private sector (almost the same number projected for union growth by the USDOL.) Are we to assume that only union jobs were created? Or that unions took over previously non-represented individuals in droves? If not, how do we reconcile the big increase from the USDOL?

So, take the statistics with a few grains of salt.

In any event, the statistics continue to show that unions still have a big role to play in the state. Having experienced labor counsel at your side still seems like a good bet for the foreseeable future.

The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities released a new set of statistics yesterday (my thanks to CHRO liaison James O’Neill for the update which I had requested a while back).  Unlike years past, the statistics this year show some dramatic changes; those changes should have a significant impact on how employers view the agency and the state of affairs in Connecticut.

  • First, the number of claims filed (which includes employment law claims as well as other types of discrimination — including housing) with the agency rose 16 percent for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014.  The claims rose from 1850 to 2146.  After years of modest decline, significantly more claims were filed in the last year.  What were the reasons for that increase? That remains to be seen.
  • To its’ credit, the CHRO continues to improve on its ratio of closed cases to open cases.  Last year the rate was 106%; it edged up slightly to 107%.  It closed 2303 cases (as compared with the 2146 cases it opened).  That means cases are less likely to linger at the agency.
  • But how those cases are being closed should be concerning to employers in some respects.  The agency dismissed just 97 cases on Merit Assessment Review (basically, the paper review after the parties submit their initial filings).  Compare that with over 800 cases closed on MAR review ten years ago.  That means a lot more cases are going to mediation and investigation and cases cost a lot more to defend than in past years.
  • And what else does that mean?  It means that more cases are also getting settled at the investigation stage.  935 cases were “withdrawn with a settlement” last year.  Compare that with just 481 over ten years ago.  For employers, even the cases that would be deemed as without merit years ago are getting some type of settlement now.  Again, an increase in costs for employers.

Unfortunately, the statistics don’t yet show how many cases were found to have “reasonable cause” to proceed to a public hearing, nor how many cases were the subject of early legal invention as well.

What’s interesting as well is that the increase is consistent with the increase in claims at the EEOC for claims filed in Connecticut as well.  Over the last five years, the number of EEOC claims in Connecticut has risen by 53 percent (from 191 charges to 294.)

I’ve previously covered the trends of such statistics in various posts for the last seven years, so it’s worth reviewing them (here, here and here for example) too to see the larger trends.

For employers who believed that the discrimination claims are a relic of history, the statistics show that such claims are alive and well.  And they are costing more in time and money than ten years ago.

 

As I indicated a few weeks ago, one of the goals of this blog this year is to stop chasing headlines.   The latest story about the NLRB demonstrates why.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress circa 1947

Late last month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (which, as you might imagine, only covers Washington D.C.) ruled that recess appointments to the NLRB were invalid, calling into question dozens of decisions by the NLRB.  The case, Canning v. NLRB, is not a light read; it’s nearly 50 pages long. 

(As an aside, this recess decision should not be confused with the Connecticut General Assembly’s attempt to have labor law taught in the schools, presumably after recess.)

Unfortunately, the first instinct of some employment law blogs was to treat this decision as some type of watershed moment in history without providing the context for private employers — particularly those without unions. 

A notable exception was a thoughtful post by the Employer Law Report which was quick to note that “since the various appeals courts are not bound to adopt each other’s opinions, the impact will depend on where the NLRB’s decisions are being challenged and how those courts rule.” 

For employers in Connecticut — which falls within the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and not the D.C. Circuit — that means that the decision is notable, but not yet binding. Continue Reading Should Private Employers Still Worry About Unions and What Happens at the NLRB?

Another day, another statistical report from the Department of Labor. (Though in fairness to the DOL, it has a whole office addressed to labor statistics (BLS), so of course we’re going to get a lot of stats.

The latest is its annual release of data showing union membership.  I first wrote about that data three years ago, way back in January 2008.  Back then I said:

The statistics show a leveling off of the decline in union membership that’s been ongoing for the last two decades. The percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2007 was 12.1 percentage, up slightly from the 12.0 percent in 2006. (For comparison, union membership in 1983 was at approximately 20 percent.)

So where are we today?  In 2010, unions nationwide lost 612,000 members; in percentage t

erms, just 11.9 percent of all workers were unionized and union membership in the private sector dropped from 7.2 percent to 6.9 — some of the lowest levels in over 70 years.  

The numbers for Connecticut also show a drop last year. In 2010, 12,000 fewer employees were represented by unions and the percentage of union-represeted employees in the workforce dropped to 17.4 percent (down from 18.4 percent in 2009.

But before we make too much of this, the percentage and overall numbers of those represented by unions is still up from 2007 numbers.

The drop, in some ways, isn’t unexpected; after all, Connecticut has been mired in a deep recession with unemployment numbers hovering around 9 percent. But it does indicate that union membership isn’t necessary a safeguard from layoffs.

Does this mean unions are dying or are poised for a comeback? Jon Hyman argues that the next two years under a friendly NLRB will be crucial to determining that future.  I’m not ready to rule unions out either, particularly in states like Connecticut where union membership is much more embedded in business.  

As I said back in 2008, "unions may be down overall from where they were decades ago, but they remain an important influence in today’s workplace."

 

With the local economy suffering the effects of the economic recession, the prevailing wisdom of experts has been that the number of discrimination claims filed would continue to skyrocket. However, as I’ve pointed out before, we just haven’t seen that trend in Connecticut play out.

New data just released by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) confirms that the number of discrimination claims filed has actually dropped significantly over the last fiscal year (July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009). You can view the latest annual report here (and see my prior reports on the CHRO annual reports for FYs 2007 and 2008 both here and here). 

Thus in FY 2009, 1716 employment discrimination complaints were filed with the agency, compared with 1814 in the prior year.  Interestingly, the CHRO made almost the exact same number of "reasonable cause findings" — 91 — as it did in the prior year (88).  Over one-third of cases were dismissed on the merit assessment review stage and nearly another third were withdrawn with settlement. 

In an upcoming post or two, I’ll delve into the statistics a bit further (including big drops in the numbers of harassment and retaliation claims being filed). 

For employers, trying to figure out why the number of discrimination complaints here in the state is has dropped while the among of people unemployed is up, is a tough one to tackle.

Could it be that more employers are offering severance in exchange for waivers of discrimination complaints? Is it that people who are laid off during a recession understand the rationale (tough economic times) better than when times are good? Are employers seeking more legal advice about the process, anticipating a higher risk of a lawsuit?

Adding to the head-scratching is the fact that complaints to the EEOC on a nation-wide basis are actually up significantly.  In any case, the new statistics reveal that a discrimination claim is not a foregone conclusion arising from a layoff, at least in Connecticut.

Photo credit: Grafixar from morguefile.com