Significantly more federal employees are taking their discrimination cases all the way to the appeals process — and the time to resolve those appeals has stretched by 30 percent to more than a year, according to newly released data.
Most discrimination cases filed last year alleged reprisal as their basis, as has been the case for at least the last decade. Federal employees frequently alleged they were discriminated against because of their age or because they are black.
The number of discrimination appeals increased nearly 14 percent, from 4,545 in 2010 to 5,176 in 2011, according to the latest annual report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And the average processing time for appeals increased from 292 days to 378 days over that period, according to the report.
EEOC said the average processing time increased because it has been focusing on resolving older appeals, which brought up the overall average.
The appeal statistics represented the most dramatic increases last year, but other aspects of the EEO process also slowed:
The average processing time for a hearing increased nearly 4 percent, from 332 days in 2010 to 345 in 2011.
The percentage of investigations completed within the required 180 days fell, from 75.8 percent in 2010 to 74.7 percent in 2011. Federal agencies completed 10,854 investigations governmentwide in 2011, in an average of 183 days. EEOC said that many factors, such as witness availability and the complexity of a case, can affect how long it takes agencies to finish their investigations.
Over the same time, the number of individuals filing complaints and the number of complaints filed declined: 15,796 federal employees, 4.2 percent less, filed 16,974 discrimination complaints, 3.5 percent less.
EEOC’s staff declined nearly 3 percent from 2,543 in September 2010 to 2,479 in September 2011. By March 2012, it had dropped further, to 2,378.
“Certainly, shrinking staff impacts our ability to achieve our mission,” EEOC said in an e-mail. “We continue to focus on leveraging our resources, particularly through an investment in technology.”
For example, EEOC said, it launched an electronic file exchange system earlier this year, and is working on a web portal agencies can use to electronically submit their annual reports.
“Both these initiatives alleviate much of the paper processing that can take time, allowing staff to focus more on oversight and adjudication functions,” EEOC said.