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EEOC unveils initiative to reach rural, underserved workers

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Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched a new campaign — the “REACH initiative” — to better reach workers in rural and underserved areas, the agency announced Monday.
  • The effort, led by Commissioner Kalpana Kotagal, will involve listening sessions, a review of existing outreach strategies, and the development of best practices for reaching communities that are underserved or are physically far from the agency’s regional offices.
  • “The REACH initiative will help us to identify ways to more effectively reach underserved communities — including rural areas, many Tribal nations, and other communities at significant distance from the EEOC’s 53 field locations,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a release.

Dive Insight:

According to the EEOC, the REACH initiative serves the agency’s goal, laid out in its 2022-2026 strategic plan, to make members of the public aware of employment discrimination laws and ensure they know their rights and responsibilities under these laws. 

Separately, the initiative serves the agency’s strategic enforcement plan, which focuses on protecting vulnerable workers from discrimination. The agency defines vulnerable populations as immigrant and migrant workers, workers on temporary visas, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, older workers and more. 

“As the daughter of immigrants, I know what is possible in this great country, and that it is due in no small part to our nation’s deep commitment to equal opportunity,” Kotagal said in the agency’s release. “By ensuring that the Commission is accessible to vulnerable and underserved communities, we can advance fair and inclusive workplaces and achieve systemic change.”

Kotagal joined the EEOC last July, giving the agency a Democratic majority. With Democrats at the helm, the agency upped its enforcement dramatically, leading to a 50% increase in lawsuits filed over the previous fiscal year, the agency announced when it wrapped its fiscal year last September. 

In particular, the agency has shown interest in “systemic” lawsuits — those in which the discrimination has a “broad impact.”  

An analysis of regional cases filed in FY 2023 by law firm Seyfarth found that the East Coast was especially busy, with the Philadelphia district office more than tripling its filings. In contrast, the Western region of the country was comparatively quiet, with Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco combined only filing 23 cases, compared to Philadelphia’s 22. 

EEOC may be looking to increase outreach in the West, as the first listening session — held Jan. 29 with nonprofits and labor unions in Las Vegas — appears to indicate. 

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