EEOC Goals of Education and Outreach: Strengths and Shortfalls of New Strategic Plan

By Matthew Crawford

On February 22, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved its strategic plan for 2012 to 2016.[1]  The plan lists three objectives: strategic law enforcement, education and outreach, and efficiently serving the public.[2]  The second strategic objective, education and outreach, is especially important and crucial to the effectiveness of the entire process for it has the large protection to stop employment discrimination before it even begins.  Small businesses and new businesses are commonly underserved and often find themselves in trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for workplace discrimination.[3]  Because of limited financial resources and other factors, most small businesses do not have a dedicated equal employment opportunity compliance officer, and many do not have in-house human resources departments.[4]  Importantly, the strategic plan states that:

[I]t is also important for the agency to target underserved subsets of the employer community, including small and new businesses.  Given their size and limited resources, such businesses are often less able to take advantage of the EEOC’s training programs and are less likely to have in-house human resources professionals to assist them with compliance.[5]

            In addition to employer outreach, the strategic plan wisely targets (as required by law[6]) education and outreach towards those individuals “who historically have been victims of employment discrimination and have not been equitably served by the Commission.”[7]

Conspicuously absent from the strategic plan is the provision of the law[8] mandating dissemination of such education materials and outreach activities in languages other than English.[9]  Although the necessity for effective education and outreach may be presumed by the recognized linguistic characteristics of the targeted groups, namely “new immigrants,”[10] it rightfully deserved emphasis and repetition in the EEOC strategic plan.  Nearly twenty years ago, it was noted by Gilbert Casellas, who was Chairman of the EEOC from 1994 to 1998, that the EEOC “held few public meetings, conducted little outreach, and was viewed as inaccessible to the public – especially to members of historically underserved groups, such as national origin and language minorities.”[11]

Of course, language barriers are not the sole problem confronting these underserved groups.[12]  There is also a lack of access to legal counsel, and, more importantly, a general reluctance to engage government agencies resulting from the understandable and persistent fear of deportation.[13]

But such barriers and fears are beginning to subside because of both increased and strategically targeted education of workers and increased outreach to small businesses and new businesses by the EEOC as well as the work of countless non-profit organizations.  Although linguistic goals were evidently left out of the new EEOC strategic plan, the EEOC has long been tasked with improving access to their programs and activities for persons who are limited in their English proficiency (LEP).[14]  On August 16, 2000, President Bill Clinton, while aboard Air Force One, signed Executive Order 13166, entitled “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.”[15]  As mandated by the order, the EEOC, as an executive branch agency, put into action an implementation plan which lays out important aspects such as identifying individuals in need of language assistance, training staff, and achieving outreach to such individuals and monitoring the plan’s continued implementation.[16]

There is certainly still much work to do.  Strategic plans and other statements by government agencies are just words on paper.  In reality, funding, manpower, and practical considerations may limit what an agency can achieve.  As of 2003, the EEOC had only thirty staffers, termed “language assistance officers,” designated specifically for developing and executing the language assistance plan and for training other staff as required by Executive Order 13166.[17]  For a nation as large as the United States, an agency with several competing responsibilities and functions cannot be realistically expected to effectively conduct outreach and education of millions of immigrant workers burdened by a language barrier.

In short, such plans and efforts are aspirational, but at least provide guidance.  Even so, there is hope for the EEOC’s efforts.  Specific examples exist where tangible action has taken place.  In one instance, the EEOC conducted several town meetings for LEP persons because of its concern they were being underserved.[18]  One of the town meetings was conducted entirely in Spanish. The town meetings also offered procedures so that discrimination complaints could be filed on site.[19]  Obviously, efforts have been made, but are they enough? Are they actually effective? Or are some government efforts towards breaking language barriers for the protection of employees just for show?


[1] EEOC Approves Strategic Plan For Fiscal Years 2012-2016, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Feb. 22, 2012) http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/2-22-12.cfm.

[2] See U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016 (2012) available at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/upload/strategic_plan_12to16.pdf [hereinafter EEOC Strategic Plan).

[3] See EEOC Commissioner Feldblum Talks to the Proactive Employer about EEO Compliance, SBWire (Mar. 9, 2012) http://www.sbwire.com/press-releases/employment-discrimination/chai-feldblum/sbwire-130885.htm.

[4] Id.

[5] EEOC Strategic Plan, supra note 2, at 23.

[6] 42 U.S.C. §2000e-4(h)(2) (2006).

[7] EEOC Strategic Plan, supra note 2, at 23 (quoting 42 U.S.C. §2000e-4(h)(2) (2006)). The law mandates the same policy as laid out in Objective II of the Strategic Plan – “In exercising its powers under this subchapter, the Commission shall carry out educational and outreach activities (including dissemination of information in languages other than English) targeted to … (A) individuals who historically have been victims of employment discrimination and have not been equitably served by the Commission…” 42 U.S.C. §2000e-4(h)(2) (2006) (emphasis added).

[8] 42 U.S.C. §2000e-4(h)(2).

[9] See EEOC Strategic Plan, supra note 2.

[10] “The Commission also believes it is important to target subsets of people within protected classes, such as persons of color under the age of 30 or low-skilled workers and new immigrants who may be unfamiliar with the nation’s equal employment laws.” EEOC Strategic Plan, supra note 2, at 23 (emphasis added).

[11] Gilbert F. Casellas, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, 1 U. Pa. J. Lab. & Emp. L. 1 (1998).

[12] See Shannon Gleeson, From Rights to Claims: The Role of Civil Society in Making Rights Real for Vulnerable Workers, 43 Law & Soc’y Rev. 669, 675 (citing Janice Fine, Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream (2006); Jennifer Gordon, Suburban Sweatshops: The Fight for Immigrant Rights (2007); Abel Valenzuela Jr., et al., On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States (January 2006) available at http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/document/onthecorner.pdf).

[13] Id.

[14] See Exec. Order No. 13166, 65 Fed. Reg. 50,119 (Aug. 16, 2000).

[15] Id.

[16] See Plan of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/lep.cfm.

[17] U.S. Comm’n on Civil Rights, Office of Civil Rights Evaluation, Toward Equal Access: Eliminating Language Barriers from Federal Programs: Draft Report for Commissioners’ Review 54 (2004).  “There are two language assistance officers at headquarters and one or two in each of EEOC.s 24 district offices and its Washington, D.C., field office.  These EEOC staff persons spend only a portion of their time on tasks related to language barriers and vary widely in the job title and level of their other duties.” Id.

[18] Id. at 61.

[19] Id.

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