Last week, I took at initial look at some of the new numbers available in this year’s Annual Report from the CHRO (the state agency responsible for investigating discrimination complaints).  As I indicted, the numbers of complaints being filed held fairly steady last year.

The statistics (you can download the full report here) regarding case closures and reasonable cause findings show that the vast majority of cases either settled or were dismissed even before an investigation is completed. 

For example, of the 1760+ cases that were closed last year, approximately one-third didn’t even make it past the initial paper review (called the "Merit Assessment Review") either because they were frivolous on their face or there was no possibility that there would be a reasonable cause finding in the case.   Another one-third of the cases were settled or resolved at various stages of the case. 

Of those cases that went through a full investigation to a finding of "reasonable cause" or "no reasonable cause", there just 75 reasonable cause findings and about 225 no reasonable cause findings. 

(Those numbers don’t tell the full story of the number of complaints that could’ve proceeded to a hearing, however; complainants were granted a ‘release of jurisdiction’ — basically, permission to file in court directly  — 290 times as well.  Some of these cases could’ve resulted in a "reasonable cause" finding if the complainant had chosen to remain at the agency.)

Nevertheless, because there are over 1900 discrimination cases filed each year, what does it really mean that the CHRO found "reasonable cause" in just 75 cases?    Is the CHRO really still serving a useful and productive function in Connecticut? 

You might be tempted to answer that question "no" by looking further at what happened to cases after a reasonable cause finding that proceeded to the public hearing stage.  The CHRO made a final determination by a human rights referee in just seven instances (and not all were in the complainant’s favor) — down from nearly 50 as recently as 2002.  

That statistic raises the question as well: Do we continue to need at least four human rights referees to handle the small number of public hearing cases? (Updated: There are presently five human rights referees, going down to 3 effective July 1, 2011). 

Having raised the questions, let me answer them in part by saying that there is no doubt that in addition to its stated goals of finding and eliminating discrimination, the agency does help reduce the cases filed in court through its dismissals and settlements.  Eliminating the agency entirely might push some of those cases directly to court which is already struggling with mass numbers of foreclosure cases.

But even with the CHRO’s gatekeeper function, the statistics can and should be used by legislators to analyze how the CHRO’s limited resources should be used and ask important questions such as "When only 75 cases of reasonable cause are found each year in Connecticut, is the agency still serving an important public service?"