New York–The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is shifting its focus from small individual cases to larger systemic issues–some across entire industries, an official warned a meeting of insurance professionals yesterday.

EEOC Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru said the changed emphasis was resources are limited to fight all potential employment discrimination battles.

He spoke in New York at the Employment Practices and Fiduciary Liability Symposium of the Minneapolis-based Professional Liability Underwriting Society where he urged brokers and insurers to use available data to evaluate insureds and clients whose policies could make them targets.

Mr. Ishimaru while explaining the new direction did predict specifically what industries or large companies might be earmarked for investigation.

He also noted that the EEOC will be stepping up efforts to bolster resources at weaker EEOC local district offices that haven’t been active enough in the past.

Mr. Ishimaru revealed a personal desire to have the agency explore the use of testers as decoys to uncover discriminatory hiring practices, another area where EEOC historical charge statistics reveal limited past success.

The Washington-based EEOC announced April 4 that it had adopted the recommendations from an internal task force led by Commissioner Leslie Silverman that would make the fight against “systemic discrimination” an agencywide top priority.

In announcing its strengthened “nationwide approach to investigating and litigating systemic cases,” the EEOC defined “systemic cases” as “pattern or practice, policy and class cases where the alleged discrimination has broad impact on an industry, profession, company or geographic location.”

At the PLUS meeting yesterday, Commissioner Ishimaru told insurers and brokers in attendance, “We need to choose our targets carefully–especially in litigation.

“And I believe, from a law enforcement agency standpoint, we need to make sure that we get as broad and as big a bang for our buck as possible.”

To change attitudes and deter bad behavior in employment practices, targets must be bigger than they’ve been in the past, he said.

At a meeting in Washington last week, during which the EEOC considered and adopted the recommendations of the task force report ( eeoc/task_reports/systemic.html), the key question addressed, Mr. Ishimaru said, was how the EEOC could “better work at…going after pattern of practice cases–the bigger cases.”

A concerned corporate defense attorney in the audience asked what industries and big companies are on the EEOC’s hit list.

“If our program was working as well as it should [in the past], I guess I could have answered that question,” Commissioner Ishimaru said.

He noted that one component of the revitalized systemic program will involve having district offices pore through data to spot problems within industries in their regions.

Most employers are required to file an EEO-1 report with EEOC that breaks down race, gender and ethnic composition of employees, he said, noting that the EEO-1 statistics could be used to reveal problem employers and industries.

The commissioner encouraged brokers and insurers to use this type of data themselves to measure risks and discover which existing clients and potential insureds could face future litigation.

He also suggested that the insurance industry participants think about “matched testing” procedures to uncover discriminatory hiring practices among insureds.

Such tests would be performed by having job applicants with similar resumes but different races or ethnic backgrounds apply for the same jobs, he said.

“We are exploring ways as to how the agency possibly could use testers directly or indirectly in enforcement,” he related, suggesting, however, that politics might keep such efforts from getting off the ground.

“As one of two Democrats on the commission, I get one vote out of five, and Republicans control the body,” he said. “But it’s something that I have raised repeatedly and something that people ought to be thinking about,” he said, expressing a hope that cracking down of hiring discrimination would be one of the major successes of the program to fight systemic discrimination.