Last week the CHRO released its case data for FY 2018. Overall, the numbers do not dramatically differ from FY 2017. However, perhaps not surprisingly given the media coverage of the viral #MeToo movement beginning in October 2017, some notable increases emerged.
The increase in the overall number of complaints filed in FY 2018 rose slightly from FY 2017 (up from 2376 to 2484). While not alarming, in the past we have seen the number of complaints filed against employers drop during periods of low unemployment such as currently reflected in the U.S. labor market.
Historically, employment claims alleging discrimination based on race, age, physical disability, sex, and color make up the greatest percentage of CHRO complaints. In FY 2018, however, the number of complaints based on sex jumped more than 20%, elevating sex discrimination complaints to the head of the pack while the number of complaints based on race, age, physical disability and color remained fairly consistent. Even more dramatically, the number of complaints alleging sexual harassment rose by nearly 62% over FY 2017.
The data in Connecticut mirrors national trends. The EEOC released preliminary FY 2018 sexual harassment data in early October showing that the Commission filed 66 harassment lawsuits, including 41 alleging sexual harassment, reflecting more than a 50% increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over FY 2017. Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12% over the same time period.
The increase in sexual harassment claims and complaints based on sex discrimination coincides with the explosion of media headlines and high profile sexual harassment cases which sparked last year’s #MeToo movement. Anecdotal information regarding the number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the CHRO in the current fiscal year suggests an even more dramatic rise in the number of these claims in the first half of FY 2019.
What’s the takeaway?
As legislative, legal and cultural shifts addressing sexual harassment in the workplace continue to develop, employers should brace for an increase in the number of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination claims. However, maybe – just maybe – these shifts will result in long term changes to the culture that allowed this conduct to exist in the first place.
Employers should revisit, review and revise their company’s Sexual Harassment Prevention policy and ensure compliance with Connecticut’s sexual harassment prevention training requirements. Perhaps more importantly, employers should strive to go beyond the legal requirements in addressing and responding to sexual harassment complaints, and seek to change workplace culture so that these – and other forms of discriminatory conduct – find zero tolerance in the workplace.