State report fails to tally cost of workplace discrimination

Last week, we reported on an annual report from the State Personnel Board that compiles a list of discrimination complaints from various state agencies.

But the report raised as many questions as it answered. While it showed that more than 1,500 complaints had been filed in 2006, more than half of the departments did not submit reports about the administrative and legal costs associated with the complaints.
Of the 56 departments that had complaints, 27 deparments did not submit financial records for administrative costs, legal fees or settlements paid to those who filed the complaints.

Another six departments reported no total costs associated with the complaints.

Among those departments that did not submit any financial information was the Department of Corrections, which had the most complaints of any state department. While Corrections did report spending 3,138 administrative hours handling 385 complaints. There was no report of any legal settlements paid out by the department.

In all, only seven departments reported any legal costs in the survey, and only five reported any settlement costs. Those costs came to more than $340,000, but as the report states, that is only a fraction of the actual cost incurred by the state.

State departments are required to report quarterly to the state personnel board about the number of complaints filed by state workers. But they are not required to track the costs associated with those complaints, said Chila Silva-Martin, who oversees the report for the SPB.

Silva-Martin, who has been on the job for less than six months, says she and the new head of the Civil Rights division will be reviewing the departments' reporting process.

"If there's additional information that we feel would be useful, then we will look at possibly expanding the reporting requirements," she said. "We are looking at all aspects of the reporting process, and for improvements that we can make."

The departments that did monitor time and costs associated with the complaints reported spending 11,626 administrative hours handling the complaints.

In the Board's latest report, which covered the 2006 calendar year and was released in October 2007, complaints were up slightly from the previous year, even though the state workforce declined by nearly 3 percent.

In all, 1,538 discrimination complaints were filed by state employees in 2006, an increase of nearly 7 percent from 2005.
But figuring out how much these complaints are costing the state remains difficult.

The report summary seemed to indicate some frustration at the limited scope of the reporting.

"Although 56 departments reported receiving discrimination complaints, only 29 departments provided some information concerning the time and cost they expended on discrimination complaints. Moreover, the time and cost information provided by many of these departments remains incomplete, particularly with respect to legal costs."

Complaints of some kind were filed in nearly two-thirds of all state departments.

According to the reports, "the most frequent changes in 2006 remain the same five categories as cited in the 2005 report." Sexual harassment complaints were responsible for 21 percent of all complaints. Retaliation was alleged in 20 percent; racial discrimination in 16 percent; gender discrimination in 12 percent; and 11 percent of the claims were filed alleging discrimination based on disability.

In 2006, 1,103 discrimination complaints were "closed" statewide, according to the report. About 40 percent of those cases were actively investigated, and discrimination was found in 100 of the more than 1,100 complaints. "Adverse or other corrective action was taken in 88 percent of these (100) cases. In addition, corrective action such as counseling or training was taken in 26 other complaints where no discrimination was found."

The numbers are similar to 2005, when 1,075 complaints were closed with investigations.

It typically takes more than three months for a discrimination complaint to be dispensed with. "The average length of time for departments to close a formal discrimination complaint was 104 days," the report states, a 28 percent decrease from 2005.
The report is culled together from each state department head, which reports discrimination complaints to the personnel board quarterly. Departments are also asked to track administrative and legal costs associated with discrimination complaints.
As in past years, the highest number of formal complaints came in the Department of Corrections. In all, there were 385 complaints filed in corrections

The next highest number of complaints came from the Department of Transportation, with 237 total complaints. Next was the Department of Motor Vehicles, which reported 123 employee complaints in 2006.

The report also listed how many active complaints each department still has outstanding. As of May 2007, there were 545 complaints in the Dept. of Corrections that have been active for more than 180 days, more than half of the 984 total number of active complaints that are more than six months old.

The report also lists how much these complaints cost the state in terms of administration costs, legal fees and damages. Many of the administrative costs seem to be built into department budgets, however. While the Department of Corrections reports using 3,138 hours of administrative time handling complaints, there were no dollar figures attached to administrative costs or legal costs.

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