EEOC challenges Navy on discrimination complaints

klunney@govexec.com

The Navy is making several changes in the second phase of its pilot program for processing discrimination complaints because of concerns raised by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to a Navy study, the pilot program, which started in June 1998, has saved the department more than $34,000 per case. A spokesperson for the Navy Office of Information said the service hopes to eventually replace its traditional EEO system with the new streamlined program.

In June, the EEOC ruled in favor of two Navy employees who had filed appeals against the Navy last year. The employees filed appeals after the pilot program failed to resolve their cases. The commission ordered that both cases go through the traditional EEO complaint process, and told the Navy to suspend the pilot program.

EEOC officials are concerned about confidentiality, fairness and neutrality for cases in the Navy pilot program that fail to reach resolution. If complainants choose to participate in the pilot program, they must waive certain rights: the right to remain anonymous, the right to request a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge, and the right to opt out of the the program.

A spokesperson for the Navy said that phase two of the pilot program will address EEOC concerns and recommendations.

"Phase two addresses the recommendations made by the EEOC and complies with the federal requirements noted by EEOC. Our goal is to press ahead with the pilot and continue to improve upon the success we experienced in phase one," Lt. Jane Alexander said.

According to the EEOC, the pilot program's "opt out" waiver deprives the employee of returning to the traditional process if alternative dispute resolution (ADR) efforts do not resolve the issue. The absence of a hearing also avoids making EEOC judges' decisions binding on the parties.

Alexander said that phase two will give employees the option to abandon their complaint under the pilot process at any time and return to the traditional EEO complaint process, if they so desire.

Last November, the EEOC ordered agencies to establish ADR programs, which are designed to settle disputes outside a courtroom using some form of arbitration or mediation. In the June decision, the EEOC says ADR is intended to work within the traditional EEO system, not replace it.

Both House and Senate versions of the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2001 (H.R. 4205 and S. 2550) contain provisions that would authorize the Navy to establish its own ADR program apart from the traditional EEO process. The Clinton administration opposes the provision, saying it would prevent the EEOC from addressing concerns raised by complainants. The two bills are now in conference committee.

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