By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
It isn’t a newsflash to those of us who regularly deal with the EEOC: the federal agency charged with protecting Americans from discrimination is overworked, with a tremendous backlog of cases. The Washington Post reported Monday that because of increased claims and decrease in staff, the case backlog is now at 73,951 – up 35 % from a backlog of 54,970 a year ago.
This means that more and more cases are languishing in the EEOC. That’s a problem when it comes to getting to the truth behind a claim, because witnesses move away or forget what happened. In this climate, it is essential for both employees and employers to obtain independent legal counsel to move a case along, to secure witness statements, to conduct investigations, and — most importantly — to frame the issues for an overworked investigator.
The Washington Post also reported that the EEOC is lowering its own goals for timeliness. Fewer than half of cases are resolved within 180 days and the EEOC’s new target compliance rate for completion within that time has been reduced from 72 % to 48 %. As the old saying goes, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Many people file claims with the EEOC without an attorney. Those unrepresented claimants are competing with dozens of other claimants for the attention of the investigator assigned to their case. The overload at the EEOC means that without the squeaky wheel of a lawyer to move an investigation along, those unrepresented claimants are less likely to see a meaningful inquiry into their cases. It seems that more cases are being released by the EEOC with no investigation at all. This isn’t the fault of the investigators– it is just the reality of an overburdened system.
Employers also benefit from representation by counsel when dealing with harried EEOC investigators. In a time when investigators are too busy to do extensive independent investigation, a well written response by an employer is all the more likely to quell an investigator’s enthusiasm for pursuing a claim.
The EEOC overload means that it is more important than ever for both employers and employees to work with attorneys who know their way around the EEOC.