Discrimination allegations on the rise, report shows

Federal job discrimination complaints increased nearly 4 percent in fiscal 2010 over the previous year, and payments to employees found to have experienced discrimination grew as well, according to a new report.

In its annual report on the federal workforce, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that 16,480 government employees filed 17,583 discrimination complaints in fiscal 2010, up 3.8 percent from fiscal 2009. Retaliation was the most common allegation, up 2.7 percent over the previous year, followed by age and race discrimination, both up 5.1 percent, according to the report.

"The federal government should be a model workplace," said Dexter Brooks, director of EEOC's federal sector programs. "We are concerned that retaliation is the most common basis of discrimination alleged and we caution all federal agencies to make sure that reprisals do not become the usual response to complaints of discrimination."

Federal agencies, not EEOC, are responsible for addressing discrimination complaints filed against them. Employees can opt to participate in pre-complaint counseling or alternative dispute resolution programs before registering a formal complaint. According to the report, 56.6 percent of such counseling incidents led to a settlement or withdrawal from the complaint process. Findings of discrimination increased from 2.98 percent to 3.3 percent, and agencies paid out $46.9 million to complainants in fiscal 2010, up 12 percent from $41.7 million in the previous year.

The average processing time for conducting investigations dropped from 185 days in fiscal to 181 days in fiscal 2010. The average time for closing complaints, however, increased from 344 days to 360 days, while the average processing time for a hearing jumped from 294 days to 332 days.

Of the Cabinet-level and large federal agencies, the U.S. Postal Service was a significant contributor to the total number of discrimination complaints and investigations in fiscal 2010, the report found. Postal employees make up 18.6 percent of the federal workforce, but the agency accounted for 40.2 percent of counseling incidents, 31.2 percent of all complaints filed and 28.9 percent of completed investigations. USPS had the highest counseling and alternative dispute resolution participation rates among large agencies. The Postal Service completed 99 percent of investigations in a timely manner, however.

The Government Printing Office had the highest counseling and complainant rates of all medium-size agencies, at 7.7 percent and 1.74 percent, respectively. According to GPO spokesman Gary Somerset, four complaints were filed in the second quarter of fiscal 2011, compared to 14 during the same period last year.

"GPO has an ongoing effort to ensure that employment discrimination does not take place within the agency, and that all employees are aware of their right to work in a discriminatory and harassment-free work environment," Somerset said. "[Public Printer Bill Boarman] has instructed GPO's [Equal Employment Opportunity] Office to develop programs, committees, focus groups and counseling services to train managers and address EEO issues."

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said agencies still have some work to do to address discrimination complaints.

"Generally, EEO complaints are filed when employees believe the merit system has let them down or when they feel they are being unfairly targeted by managers," Kelley said. "NTEU believes there is significant room for improvement in how such systems are implemented by managers."

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