Equal employment report shows mixed success

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a decrease in discrimination claims filed governmentwide during fiscal 2007 in its annual federal workforce survey released Tuesday.

Agencies have reduced their average claims processing time by 12 days since fiscal 2006, but they've paid out more money to employees who filed discrimination claims. And many agency leaders were not receiving the required briefings or directly overseeing the work of their equal employment opportunity directors.

"I look forward to seeing continued improvement in workforce diversity and complaint processing," EEOC Chairwoman Naomi Earp said. Federal employees filed 16,363 complaints of employment discrimination in fiscal 2007, a slight drop from the 16,723 complaints filed in fiscal 2006, and 1,637 complaints fewer than the 18,000 filed in fiscal 2005. In addition, 3,262 of those complaints filed in fiscal 2007 resulted in settlements and 7,673 cases were closed on the merits. In 2.8 percent of cases closed on the merits, EEOC found that discrimination had taken place.

Agencies paid out $36.4 million in damages during fiscal 2007 to employees who filed discrimination complaints, $1.8 million more than in fiscal 2006.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said grievance procedures negotiated with agencies as part of collective bargaining agreements closed complaints more quickly and produced better results. In fiscal 2007, it took EEOC an average of 355 days to close a case, down from 367 days in fiscal 2006.

"Another advantage to the grievance-and-arbitration process is that in the event of a mixed case, alleging discrimination and an unfair labor practice or contract violation, we will get a fair hearing on all those issues before someone who is familiar with the law and practice in all those areas," Kelley said. "EEOC hearings do not necessarily consider contract violations or violations of statutes other than those prohibiting discrimination."

The report also noted that, although agencies were paying more attention to equal employment opportunity issues, substantial performance gaps remain. Only half of required reports (MD-715 forms) on fiscal 2006 workforce demographics and equal employment opportunity activity were filed on time by the 167 agencies and offices that submitted them -- an 18 percent drop from fiscal 2005.

Of those agencies, 68 percent said they issued annual EEO policies, an 18 percent increase from fiscal 2005. Only 63 percent completed annual briefings to the heads of their agencies, though that represented a 4 percent increase from the previous year.

At 94 larger agencies, which are required to submit an additional report on their activities, 61 percent of equal employment opportunity directors answer directly to their agency heads, even though those leaders are required to sign off on MD-715 reports and to oversee equal opportunity efforts.

These performance gaps are cause for concern because, the report's authors wrote, "now, more than ever before, with the increasing expectations of government institutions, federal agencies must position themselves to attract, develop and retain a top-quality work force in order to ensure our nation's continued growth, security and prosperity. To develop this competitive, highly qualified work force, federal agencies must fully utilize the talents of all employees, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or disability."

To that end, the report noted that women's participation in the federal workforce continued to increase, but between fiscal 2006 and 2007, the participation of women, Latinos, and people of two or more races in the federal workforce was lower than their representation in the civilian labor force at large. African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and women remained overrepresented in the civilian labor force in 2007.

Pay grade gaps remain, too. The average General Schedule pay grade for employees was 10 in fiscal 2007, with men having the highest average grade of any other demographic group, 10.6. Asians and white employees had the same average grade of 10.3. The average grade for women in fiscal 2007 was 9.3, the same as in 2006. The average grade for Latinos was 9.4; African-Americans had an average grade of 9; employees of two or more races had an 8.7 average; the average Native American grade was 8.4 while Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders received an average grade of 8.

The number of federal employees with targeted disabilities dropped for the 12th consecutive year, hitting a low of 0.92 percent of the federal workforce, down 0.02 percent from fiscal 2006. Disabled federal employees average pay grade of 8.5 -- a full point and a half below the average.

But there was a bright note for disability advocates. The Internal Revenue Service won the 2007 Freedom to Compete award for its 41-year collaboration Lions World Services for the Blind to provide guaranteed jobs to visually impaired candidates who undergo a rigorous training. The Freedom to Compete award recognizes agencies that create strong model equal employment opportunity programs.

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