When it comes to law suits stemming from employment discrimination, Arizona seems to mirror a nationwide trend. In Arizona, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been pretty busy. According to the Arizona Republic, cases involving pregnancy discrimination, pay disparity and sexual and racial harassment claims have been filed in Federal court here recently. Nationwide, 2007 saw a record number of racial harassment claims, surpassing the 2006 number by 12 percent. Retaliation claims jumped 18 percent, sex discrimination claim 7 percent, age discrimination claims rose 16 percent, disability claims rose 14 percent and claims regarding national origin grew 12 percent.
A host of companies have been sued in the Arizona complaints, including the parent company of a Subway sandwich shop, a law firm, an agribusiness, and a call center. “We’re keeping an eye out for problems with sexual harassment and discrimination in terms of promotion,” the Republic quoted Mary Jo O’Neill, a regional attorney for the EEOC. And with many Boomers now considering postponing their retirement due to shrinking investment portfolios, expected a new wave of age discrimination and failure to promote claims, as well.
While things may not be as exciting in your jurisdiction, one thing is clear—with the economy in the doldrums, employment claims will increase. Adding to the mix is an amended American With Disabilities Act (ADA) amendment in September which will help to clarify how businesses should treat those with disabilities.
Since the first Act was passed in 1990, a body of law gave widely differing outcomes. The amended Act will expand protections for those with disability, and was a compromise worked on by many advocacy groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In short, with historic changes in the ADA as well as an increasing number of layoffs, reductions in force and terminations, your organization, whether you sell sandwiches or practice law, can no longer afford to be without employment practices coverage.
Where should you start if you currently have no employment practices liability coverage (EPL)? Start by contacting your current agent or broker. If he or she does not have the insurance markets available, a referral to another agent can help you begin. One of the advantages to buying coverage is the risk management assistance most EPL carriers provide. They can help you by reviewing your current employment policies, if you have them, or helping you to develop them if you do not.
In the earlier-mentioned case against the Phoenix subway the EEOC prosecuted, an employee was interviewing a woman for a job at the sandwich shop. The shop manager asked her if she was pregnant, and when she replied “Yes,” he told her that his manager had instructed him not to hire anyone who was pregnant. Simple training in the interviewing technique could have prevented that claim, and an EPL carrier can provide that training and advice.
If you think you cannot afford EPL coverage, you may be right. But with a hotly contested employment case running between $150,000 and $250,000 just to defend, not including a potential verdict, can you really afford to be without EPL coverage?