Yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that a record number of private sector workplace discrimination charges were filed with the agency in its fiscal year 2010.  In its press release, the EEOC noted that 99,922 charges were filed, calling this figure an  “unprecedented level” of discrimination charges.  The statistics show the EEOC, through its combined enforcement, mediation, and litigation programs, secured more than $404 million in monetary benefits from employers.

All major categories of charge filings increased last year.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, retaliation charges surpassed race as the most frequently filed charge.  The EEOC also received 201 charges under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in its first year of enforcement.

In the press release, EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrian stated:  “Discrimination continues to be a substantial problem for too many job seekers and workers, and we must continue to build our capacity to enforce the laws that ensure that workplaces are free of unlawful bias.”

What does this mean for employers?  Ms. Berrian’s statement confirms the EEOC’s commitment to step up its enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.  Employers should expect the upward trend in charge filings to continue, perhaps at an even more rapid pace.  The spike in retaliation claims should be a big warning light for employers — you MUST take special caution when handling employees who have previously complained of discrimination, harassment, or other related workplace claims.  Even if the employee does not have a valid underlying claim, the employee can serve up a retaliation claim on a silver platter if not careful.