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Jobs Panel Failed to Properly Investigate Large Number of Bias Cases, Report Says

Times Staff Writer

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has closed a large percentage of cases involving charges of employment discrimination without considering “critical evidence” or interviewing “relevant witnesses,” according to a government report to be released today.

The report, by the General Accounting Office, also found that state agencies monitored by the EEOC showed “serious deficiencies” in their handling of discrimination cases.

Taken together, the problems could lead to “inequitable results” for the hundreds of thousands of people seeking protection from job discrimination, said the report by the GAO, Congress’ investigative agency.

Failed to Cut Backlog

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Moreover, while closing the cases for “no cause,” or no determination of discrimination, the EEOC failed to reduce the massive case backlog that has beset the agency for years, according to the report, a draft of which was obtained by The Times.

The EEOC, created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, handles complaints of job discrimination based on race, age, gender, national origin and handicap. With 100,000 new charges filed each year, the agency years ago began trying to streamline its investigative process to combat the backlog.

Since 1983, however, the EEOC’s stated policy has been to “fully investigate” every charge filed. Concerned that the agency has been failing to meet this standard, several members of Congress asked the accounting office to investigate the EEOC.

The GAO reported that, “under the current investigative approach, charges filed were not being fully investigated, and yet the size of the backlog has nearly doubled since 1983" to 118,000 by this year. This approach “resulted in charges being closed with minimal investigative work and in some cases may have produced inequitable results,” the agency said.

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The report was hailed by advocates for women and minorities, but EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas called it “a hatchet job,” adding that he was “really ticked.”

‘Serious Problem’

In Milwaukee, Ellen Bravo, national organizing director for a group called 9 to 5, an advocate for women in the work force, said: “I’m delighted to hear that the GAO commented on this. It has been a serious problem in the last eight years.”

The GAO, which reviewed 743 cases last year in Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia and Northern California, found that EEOC district offices closed from 41% to 82% of the cases before they were fully investigated. In state agencies, from 50% to 87% of the cases were closed without a full inquiry.

“Critical evidence was not verified” in 41% to 87% of the cases, and “relevant witnesses were not interviewed in at least 20%" of the investigations, the report said.

Willis Edwards, president of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood NAACP, said that the GAO findings reflect his organization’s experience for years. “The job has not been done,” he said. “We have complaints all the time about EEOC. Many people have legitimate cases and could win in court” if EEOC were to follow up on their complaints.

The EEOC dismissed 55% of its cases in 1987 under Thomas, an appointee of President Reagan, compared to 32% under Eleanor Holmes Norton in 1979 during the Jimmy Carter Administration, according to congressional aides.

Disagreement Among Staff

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The GAO report suggested the failure to fully investigate charges stemmed from disagreement among EEOC staff on investigation requirements and a “perception by investigative staff that EEOC was more interested in reducing the large charge inventory than in performing full investigations.”

The report called on the EEOC to clarify its investigative procedures and urged a major effort to monitor the EEOC, including the establishment of a “panel of experts” to be assembled by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, and Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Calling the EEOC’s performance “outrageous,” Hawkins said that it provides “a tragic human perspective to the Reagan-Bush Administration’s civil rights failures.”

But Thomas in an interview dismissed such comments--and the GAO report itself--as partisan politics. “It’s a shame Congress can use GAO as a lap dog to come up with anything it wants,” he said.

In a written response to GAO, Thomas asserted that since the study was completed, his agency has initiated “many program improvements,” including better program monitoring and staff recruitment, adding that his agency has had “unprecedented success in civil rights enforcement.”

Inadequate Funding Blamed

During the interview, Thomas, who failed to persuade Congress to add another $20 million to his $180-million budget in fiscal 1989, blamed inadequate funding for his agency’s inability to diminish its backlog of cases.

“I am really ticked,” he said, asserting that budget-makers in the Democratic-controlled Congress “tie our hands, put a millstone around our necks and then say we can’t swim.”

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An aide to the House Appropriations Committee called Thomas’ charges an “absolute fallacy,” asserting that until last year the Reagan Administration made no “substantial request” for increases in the EEOC’s program budget.

By then, the aide said, the deficit-cutting Gramm-Rudman Act made it highly unlikely that Congress would provide more money for the beleaguered agency.


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