This year marks a historic time for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). As we prepare to celebrate our 50th Anniversary on July 2, 2015, the occasion provides a fitting moment to reflect on our role and progress in achieving the nation’s goal of equal opportunity in the workplace. When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it established the EEOC to enforce our workplace anti-discrimination laws. Over time, Congress added the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to the agency’s enforcement responsibilities.

These anti-discrimination laws have transformed American society in many ways since their enactment. By expanding equal opportunity in the workplace, we have made great strides as a nation towards ensuring that each of us can do the kind of work we want to do — free from discrimination. Yet, there is still much work to be done.

Today, we continue to see systemic barriers to equal opportunity in many areas, including hiring, persistent harassment, and increased retaliation. This 50th Anniversary year presents an opportune time for a call to action — to enlist employers and workers in a broader effort to prevent and correct workplace discrimination and to identify real world solutions for our most difficult workplace challenges.

To kick off this call to action, on January 14th, the Commission will convene a public meeting to hear from stakeholders about how targeted outreach and education can prevent and correct workplace harassment.

The EEOC uses multiple strategies to help workers and employers resolve discriminatory workplace practices, including investigation, mediation, conciliation, guidance, outreach and education, and litigation. Our field enforcement program’s mediation, settlement and conciliation efforts serve as prime examples of our investment in strategies to resolve workplace disputes efficiently and with lasting impact, without resort to litigation. In FY 2014, these efforts secured more than $296 million in benefits for individuals.

More and more often, employers are coming to the table to voluntarily resolve charges, without the need for litigation. Mediation is a voluntary process where a neutral mediator assists the employer and employee in resolving employment disputes and reaching an agreement. In FY 2014, the EEOC’s mediation program successfully resolved 77% of the 10,221 mediations conducted involving private sector charges of discrimination. The EEOC obtained $144.6 million in monetary benefits for workers through mediation resolutions.

Participants continue to rate the mediation program favorably, with 96.4% reporting confidence in the program last year. The agency increased the percentage of employers participating in Universal Agreements to Mediate (UAMs) by 4% in FY 2014 to a total of 2,283 UAMs.

Conciliation is an informal and confidential process to resolve charges where we have found reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred. The EEOC’s record demonstrates its commitment to using conciliation. In fact, the rate of successful conciliations increased from 27% in FY 2010 to 38% in FY 2014. The success rate for systemic charges is even higher – at 47%, which has even greater significance as these charges have the potential to impact an industry or to change a workplace practice.

Recognizing the great value of voluntary resolutions, the EEOC is investing in its mediation program to assist parties in efficiently resolving disputes through mutual agreement. The agency has also continued to invest in training for our staff in conducting effective conciliation efforts.

Successful mediations and conciliations reap multiple benefits by enabling parties to resolve disputes early in the process and before protracted litigation. These successful resolutions ensure that employees and employers can move forward in a constructive environment. And when employers commit to equal and fair treatment by implementing practices that promote equal employment opportunity, the investment in those solutions pays great dividends not only for today’s workers, but for tomorrow’s workers as well.

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