Which State Has the Worst Record of Sexual Discrimination?

James Young

Social media and the virality of the internet have been giving a greater platform to victims of workplace discrimination. Take, for example, Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer who detailed her appalling experience at the logistics giant in a February blog post.

Her account of sexual propositions and threats of dismissal sparked outrage online, prompting another wave of the #DeleteUber movement. Her tweet linking to the revelatory post has since been shared over 22,000 times.

Fowler never filed a formal discrimination claim, fearing a backlash from the same managers and HR reps that had initially swept her complaints under the carpet. If she had, she would have consulted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC is the federal agency in charge of enforcing employment discrimination law in the US. The commission, which handles around 90,000 “charges” each year, protects employees against discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and genetic information.

Like in Fowler’s case, many incidents of sex discrimination go unreported; a 2013 YouGov poll found that as much as 70% of sexual harassment victims choose not to file a formal complaint. However, the EEOC’s statistics remain an important indicator of trends in discriminatory practices across the nation.

Data visualisation: Sex Discrimination in the USA

For this visualisation, I’ll be looking at all sex-based discrimination charges filed with the EEOC each year, by state, from 2009-2016.

By the EEOC’s definition, sex discrimination includes cases of unfavourable treatment based on sex, gender identity, transgender status and sexual orientation, as well as sexual harassment, including same-sex sexual harassment.

Unsurprisingly, states with higher populations, such as Texas and Florida, lead the way in total number of charges. Put simply, the more people there are employed in a state, the greater number of sexual discrimination incidents you can expect to see.

To account for this bias, I used data provided by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics to calculate the number of charges filed in each state, per 100,000 employees, per year.

On mobile? Click here for a mobile-friendly version of the visualisation. 

District of Columbia: The Main Offender?

At first glance, the high number of sex-based discrimination charges brought against employers in DC would make it appear to be the nation’s sex discrimination capital. However, this accolade is heavily influenced by the number of federal agencies headquartered in the district.

The EEOC’s reporting procedure for federal employees is different to the conventional process, and requires employees to file a claim with their agency’s EEO office, rather than within their local state. The disproportionate number of agency EEO offices in DC, as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia that fall within the Greater DC area, mean that a greater-than-expected number of charges can be seen in these regions.

Discrimination Hotspot in the South-East

With DC a probable outlier, the worst offending states can be found in the South-East of the country. Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee all see an average of 34-48 charges filed per 100,000 employees per year.

For Mississippi and Arkansas, the nation’s third and fourth poorest performers, this result is less than surprising. Neither state maintains a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA) – a local authority that works alongside the EEOC to uphold employment standards. These are the only two states in the country not to do so, suggesting a shocking lack of commitment to the prevention of discriminatory behaviour in the workplace.

2012: From Bad to Worse for Arkansas

Arkansas’ sex discrimination figures show a dramatic peak in 2012, in which they grew 145%, from 40 to 98 charges per 100,000 employees, before returning to previous levels in 2013.

Mary Cooper, Vice President of the Central Arkansas Human Resources Association, put the rise down to changes in EEOC policy – in 2011, the commission updated their interpretation of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation, before revising it again in 2012, to include gender identity.

However, despite these changes applying nationwide, no other state displays a similarly staggering peak in claims.

The EEOC Under Trump

Much has been made about the potential for change in the EEOC’s focus under the Trump administration.

Currently, the Commission’s five executive seats are occupied by three Democrats and one Republican, with one vacancy. In July 2017, the term of Commissioner Jenny R. Yang (D), will also come to end, and a Republican majority is almost certain once the new appointments are made.

In the past, President Trump has spoken about his desire to reduce regulation on businesses, meaning the repeal of many Obama-era legislative changes are likely, particularly those applying to the EEO-1.

The EEO-1 is a report that businesses of over 100 employees are required to file with the EEOC annually. From March 2018, employers must detail employee pay information alongside employee demographic data, in a bid to address, among other factors, the gender pay divide. Vice President Pence is an outspoken critic of the reform, claiming that it’s unnecessarily burdensome and costly.

Also under scrutiny will be the EEOC’s 2011 interpretation of sexual orientation as protected under discrimination law. However, a recent Seventh Circuit court ruling in Hivey vs. Ivy Tech Community College has set a legal precedent that renders it highly likely to remain intact.

Revisions and policy changes aside, the EEOC is vital for holding businesses accountable for discriminatory employment practices. Regardless of how priorities shift under the Trump administration, it will continue to be the first port of call for victims like Susan Fowler.

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