The NYPD has zeroed in on allegations made by actress Paz de la Huerta, who called police on October 25th to report Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. The NYPD has said they believe her allegations are credible. (Nov. 9) AP
WASHINGTON — If there is a Harvey Weinstein-inspired surge in sexual harassment charges filed with the federal government, the plaintiffs should expect to wait years for any resolution.
That’s because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the lead federal agency that enforces laws that ban employment discrimination, had a backlog of 73,508 complaints in fiscal 2016 — covering all types of workplace discrimination or harassment — and the agency’s workforce is shrinking, not growing.
USA TODAY reported on Wednesday that law firms in the nation’s capital are seeing a spike in inquiries about sexual harassment cases and the EEOC website is seeing a doubling of visits to its harassment web page. Yet many of those who’ve filed formal complaints with the agency can wait years for any recourse, according to Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which oversees the agency.
According to the EEOC, the average wait time for a claim was 295 days in 2017, up from 182 days in 2001.
Now the agency’s budget is poised to get even smaller with the Trump administration seeking to shrink many federal agencies. It has requested $364 million in fiscal year 2018, about the same level as 2016 and 2017, which includes about a 10% cut in full-time employees since 2016.
In fiscal year 2001, the EEOC had approximately 2,900 employees and a backlog of 32,481 cases. The 2018 funding request would provide a total staff of under 2,000 employees.
According to the EEOC’s budget request explanation, the 2018 funding would allow the agency “to sustain our staffing levels.” Congress has not yet passed or even drafted a spending bill to provide funding for federal agencies for next year.
Further, under President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, the EEOC would absorb the Office of Federal Contracting and Compliance Programs, which has a completely different mission, creating a major budget strain.
The budget challenge “is significant,” said Nicholas Inzeo, who oversees 53 EEOC offices across the country. It means the agency must prioritize. “With the resources we have, if we are to do an effective job, then we have to decide to spend less time on certain other cases,” he said. “We are trying to do that in order to be more effective.”
“It’s going to be a challenge, but there’s some interesting things about where the EEOC is right now that actually probably make it better equipped to handle this potential wave of complaints than they were a year or two ago,” said Joseph A. Kroeger, a labor and employment partner at Snell & Wilmer in Tucson, Ariz.
Kroeger pointed to the agency’s increased focus on using digital intake systems. He also pointed to EEOC acting chair Victoria A. Lipnic, who has said shrinking the backlog is a priority.
“What happens when they receive a crush of charges? I think that the EEOC would say we’ve been preparing for this we do have the resources to do it, but it’s a very fair question to ask whether they do,” Kroeger said. His own firm has seen a rise in corporate clients coming to them with sexual harassment concerns in recent days.
The budget concerns at EEOC are part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to prune federal agencies charged with enforcing federal rules. Trump’s budget, released in March, recommended cuts or outright elimination of 62 federal agencies and programs, though he is seeking increases in spending for the Defense Department, Veterans Affairs and some other targeted programs.
“There is a rapidly growing awareness that harassment and discrimination are commonplace in workplaces across the country,” said Rep. Mark Takano of California, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee overseeing the EEOC. “With each new revelation of serious workplace misconduct, the Trump administration’s effort to weaken the agencies that protect workers becomes even more absurd,” he said.
The EEOC says it has reduced its backlog of cases to its lowest level in 10 years.
Still, the backlog stands in contrast to the 3,400 that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee says is reasonable for an agency of its size. The EEOC does not yet have data on how many of the waiting cases involve sexual harassment, but in 2014 and 2016 sexual harassment, including pregnancy discrimination, accounted for 29% of the charges the agency handled.
The number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC in 2016 was 6,758, 15% lower than in 2010. That small total that suggests that cases are vastly under-reported, according to the EEOC, which takes in approximately 90,000 complaints a year for all workforce violations. A 2016 EEOC report found 70% of individuals who experienced harassment never talked with a supervisor or union representative.
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