Have federal agencies been wrongfully dismissing discrimination claims?

A recent report indicates that federal agencies have wrongfully dismissed myriad discrimination complaints filed by workers.

If the results of a recent report issued by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is to be believed, then the answer to that question is a resounding "yes." The report comes amidst an ongoing EEOC campaign to improve the discrimination complaint process for workers in the federal sector.

The data

For purposes of this study, analysts with the EEOC examined data concerning reversals of initial federal agency decisions on employment discrimination complaints for fiscal years 2008 to 2012. The EEOC was looking for the total number of complaints that were initially dismissed by the relevant federal agency (be it the Post Office, Department of Agriculture, Department of Veterans' Affairs, etc.) but later reversed and remanded after an appeal to the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations. Once the number of reversals was determined, the EEOC dug deeper to discover the reason why those complaints were dismissed in the first place.

The EEOC found that over 80 percent of dismissed complaints were thrown out for one of two reasons, both set forth in federal regulations governing dismissals ( 29 C.F.R. 1614.107):

  • Failure to state a claim pursuant
  • Failure to abide by regulatory time limitations

Approximately one-third of dismissed complaints are overturned on appeal annually, but for some years that rate is much higher. In 2012, for example, nearly half (45 percent) of originally dismissed complaints were reversed and remanded upon appeal to the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations. Data analyzed by the EEOC shows some agencies persistently wrongfully dismiss discrimination complaints, including the Post Office and Army, which had high dismissal rates for most of the time span of the study. Other agencies, namely the Departments of Agriculture, Justice and Veterans' Affairs showed high wrongful dismissal rates for at least one year of the EEOC's study.

Interpreting the results

Many may look at the results of the EEOC's analysis and struggle to determine a "take-away" from the study. Perhaps the most important observation is this: when federal agencies wrongfully dismiss complaints of discrimination, they remove an important opportunity for recourse for employees dealing with undue harassment or bias in the workplace. EEOC spokesman Carlton Hadden said it best: "preservation of access to the legal system is one of the Commission's critical priorities." Unless federal agencies consistently apply federal regulations governing their handling of race, age, religion, nationality and gender discrimination claims, employees lose the right to fight back against the party or parties wronging them.

There is a procedure in place to handle federal sector - and private sector - employee discrimination allegations for a reason, namely that workers need an outlet by which to both draw attention to their plight and seek help. If you or a loved one has been the victim of discrimination in the workplace, consider speaking with an employment law attorney, especially if your complaint has been dismissed by a federal agency. And, remember this: having an experienced employment law attorney like those at Hadsell, Stormer and Renick, LLP, at your side gives you a statistically better chance of filing a successful claim that could facilitate much-needed change.

Keywords: employment discrimination, harassment, gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination