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Discrimination claims down, but investigations still drag, report finds

The number of discrimination claims filed by federal employees declined by 6 percent between 2003 and 2004, according to a new report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But EEOC Chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez said the numbers were still too high. She added, "Despite some agencies' better efforts to process discrimination complaints, they are constrained by a system that is costly, cumbersome and inefficient."

In total, 19,024 complaints were filed. Employees complained most often that they were victims of reprisal after filing a discrimination claim. More than 7,750 claims were filed for reprisal. The other common complaints involved age bias (5,449), discrimination against black employees (5,021), and discrimination against women (4,613). The list is more or less in line with previous years and marks a continuation of a trend toward high levels of age-related claims.

When government employees file a discrimination claim, they can go through up to seven steps before a final decision is made on the claim's validity. Employees might first go to precomplaint counseling, then to a precomplaint alternative dispute resolution process. If the dispute is not resolved, the accused agency investigates. That can lead to another alternative dispute resolution process before the agency issues its decision. If employees are not satisfied, then they can appeal to an EEOC administrative judge. The final appeal would be to the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations.

The report indicated that only 43 percent of agency investigations were completed within the mandated 180-day time frame. On average, agencies were well off the required pace, processing 11,876 investigations in an average of 280 days. That was worse than 2003's 267-day average. Agencies improved their timeliness in issuing final decisions, though the process remained slow, taking 469 days on average, down from 541 in 2003.

The EEOC also made strides in reducing the time it takes to hear cases and issue decisions. Initial decisions were handed out in an average of 355 days, down from 421. Appellate processing time dropped from 285 days to 207.

Overall, the federal workplace was diverse in 2004. Whites made up 70 percent of the total workforce, blacks 18 percent, Hispanics (some of whom identified themselves as white) 8 percent, Asian and Pacific Islanders 6 percent, and Native Americans 2 percent. But the representation of Hispanics and white women continued to lag the private sector.

In senior pay level positions, such as the Senior Executive Service and Senior Foreign Service, white men continued to hold most of the jobs. Men held 74 percent of those jobs, while whites made up 86 percent of the total. Black representation dropped from 7 percent in 2003 to 6.5 percent last year, while the number of Asian and Pacific Islanders in top jobs rose to 3.2 percent from 2.5 percent. Hispanics continued to hold 3.4 percent of the jobs.