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The federal agency that enforces laws against employment discrimination collected a record $420 million for aggrieved workers last year, when the number of complaints filed with the government was down slightly from the previous 12 months. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 79,432 discrimination complaints against private employers and state and local governments in the year ending Sept. 30. The figure was down from the 81,293 complaints in 2003, and below the seven-year high of 84,442 recorded in 2002. Last year, the commission resolved 85,259 discrimination cases, down slightly from 2003, including some cases pending from previous years, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The agency had its best year recovering monetary benefits for workers. It collected more than $251 million by settling cases before trial, and $168 million through EEOC lawsuits filed in federal courts, for a total of $420 million. It was the largest sum ever collected in a single year, the agency said. Agency chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez said the figures show the EEOC continues to make progress toward wiping out employment discrimination. “Nevertheless, as our latest enforcement data show, much work remains to attain the promise of equal employment opportunity for all,” she said in a statement. Several factors could explain the decline in filings over the past two years, said David Grinberg, a commission spokesman. Among them are employers becoming more sensitive to discrimination issues, more employers handling cases internally, increased outreach by the EEOC and an improving economy. “It’s really a confluence of factors,” he said. “It’s not attributable to one thing.” Complaints alleging discrimination based on race and sex accounted for the bulk of last year’s complaints, about the same percentages as in 2003. Race was cited in 27,696 cases, or 34.9 percent of the total, and sex was claimed in 24,249 cases, or 30.5 percent of the total. Employment discrimination complaints reached a seven-year high in 2002, the year following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Grinberg said many of those cases amounted to “backlash discrimination” against Muslims, Arabs and people of Middle Eastern descent, since most of the 19 terrorist hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Discrimination complaints also increase when the economy is performing poorly, as was the case after the terrorist strikes, he said. President Bush’s budget proposal for 2006 requests a slight increase of $4.4 million for the EEOC, to $331.2 million, up from its current $326.8 million budget, Grinberg said. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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