Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussion sponsored by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Charles Krich, a Principal Attorney, also spoke and it was moderated by Deputy Director Cheryl Sharp.
The purpose of the discussion, before dozens of practitioners in the state, was to look at the state of affairs at the CHRO. More specifically, though, we spent a good deal of time addressing the Case Assessment Review and Early Legal Intervention processes.
As I noted at the presentation itself, the CHRO is to be commended to having such open sessions and being responsive to suggestions and criticisms offered by me and others.
There were several items of note from the meeting itself:
- The CHRO’s resources continue to be severely tested. Krich mentioned afterwards that the staffing levels are down to just 66 people, across all the offices. That’s down nearly 50 percent from years ago. Positions are not being filled when people retire. Presently, two Regional Manager positions are being filled on an interim basis by Krich and Sharp, which even they acknowledged is less than ideal.
- That said, the CHRO is still keeping its backlog of cases a historically low levels, so the CHRO is doing better at doing more with less.
- Nevertheless, Krich noted that they are looking at Case Assessment Review process because it is not working as intended. Previously, too many cases were knocked out at Merit Assessment Review, Krich said; now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. A fix, though, isn’t easy.
- One of the problems, Krich noted, is that those who are required to do the Case Assessment Review are not equipped to apply the standards evenly. As a result, it is easier to just send the cases through to mediation and investigation, than to knock them out.
- Krich himself has now started to review the Case Assessment Reviews in the Bridgeport region the last two months and believes that more cases are not passing CAR as a result. He is able to apply some consistency to the approach there.
- Krich said that employers should consider submitting more information in the answer process itself which he believes can be helpful in getting more cases dismissed. I pointed out that employers have resisted that of late because, it seems no matter how much information is submitted, the cases still get retained for investigation.
- One “safety valve” that Krich believes should be used by parties more, however, is the Early Legal Intervention. That allows the legal department to review complaints (typically after a mediation) and figure out the best course of action for a complaint.
- I had asked what the statistics, though, were on Early Legal Intervention and I was surprised by the results. Krich indicated that over the last three months (since September 1, 2016), there were 69 cases that had gone through that. Of that, 3 were sent directly to public hearing and 31 cases were returned for investigation. But of the remainder, 20 were given a release of jurisdiction and 15 more were tagged with a “no reasonable cause” finding. That allows the CHRO to focus its resources on less cases.
- Thus, for employers and the attorneys who represent them, it may be worth exploring Early Legal Intervention more. The risk of the case going directly to public hearing remains low.
During the discussion, I also brought up the CHRO’s ineffective handling of complaints that are brought on the same facts, but against different respondents — such as against the employer (for discrimination) and a supervisor (for aiding and abetting discrimination). Currently, those cases are each processed separately and each office handles such complaints differently. In response to additional audience support for review of this, Deputy Director Sharp indicated she would review the process further. It was a good example of what can come out meetings like this.
There was more to the two-hour presentation and discussion than can be wrapped up in a blog post, but suffice to say that it was a productive meeting. Hopefully, more meetings like this will be scheduled in 2017 — perhaps in another location or two throughout the state so those in Fairfield County might have the benefit of attending the next ones.