This week, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a self-described “free market” think tank, issued an article suggesting that Connecticut had nearly the same number of discrimination complaints as our neighboring state, Massachusetts.
(This isn’t the first time it’s been critical of the CHRO.)
In doing so, the Yankee Institute claimed that these statistics raise “questions as to whether Connecticut is simply more litigious or if the policies at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities are encouraging more claims.”
I noted back then that the statistics only told part of the story and unfortunately here, the Yankee Institute’s arguments fall into this trap of relying too heavily on just a few statistics.
For example, yes, discrimination complaints have risen in the last few years as the Yankee Institute argues, but the types of complaints being filed are changing. The Yankee Institute’s article lumps them all together as if they are fungible.
For example, as I noted in December: If you look at the claims involving termination of employment, there were 1216 filed in FY 2016, which is actually down from historical peaks in 2003, when there were 1385 such claims.
Instead, a different type of claim is being filed over the last 15 years — with huge increases in the “terms and conditions” area.
That is, employees who claim that they are being discriminated against in the “terms and conditions” of their employment when it comes to things like hiring, promotions and pay. It could also mean an employer is not approving leaves, or granting breaks or any other term or condition of employment, however small.
In 2003, there were 411 such claims filed. In 2014, there were 782. By FY 2016, however, that number has skyrocketed to 1056!
In my mind, that likely means that more current employees are bringing discrimination claims against their employers.
This is bolstered by a look at the “harassment” statistics. Notably, I’m not talking about sexual harassment claims, which continue to trend noticeably downward. Just 135 such claims were filed in FY 2016, down from 185 the prior year and the lowest number by far in the 15+ years of available data.
Instead, this is a catch all claim for “I’m harassed” because of some other reason. Just 175 such claims were filed in 2003, though that number was up to 380 in 2014. For FY 2016, that number is up to 545.
That’s a more than 210% increase in over a decade!
Is the CHRO to blame for this trend? Without more critical analysis, I am hesitant to place the blame on the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
Anecdotally, I hear more arguments that employees are throwing around the phrase “hostile work environment” — not understanding that having a difficult boss is not illegal harassment.
The Yankee Institute’s article is also critical of the CHRO’s closure rate for “No Reasonable Cause” at 54 percent, compared to 87 percent of the Massachusetts claims closed for a lack of probable cause.
The CHRO issued a statement of their own on Facebook this week, with its own explanation for the discrepancy:
Many companies in Connecticut choose to resolve those matters prior to going through the full investigation process, by mediating those claims. Mediation works to the benefit of both parties, allowing for faster resolution and less time and money spent on investigations. These cases are frequently closed in fewer than six months from filing.
Here too, I think there is a danger than just looking at the numbers. Both sides have some merit to their arguments.
As the Yankee Institute correctly notes, complaints ARE more costly and employers sometimes feel that they should pay something on even meritless claims to avoid the cost of litigation.
But the CHRO can also point to the fact that it has been dismissing more cases of late on Early Legal Intervention, giving employers more opportunities to avoid the cost of the CHRO process. And the CHRO has been using mediation more effectively in the past — even if cases are getting through Case Assessment Review that probably shouldn’t.
Statistics are helpful; but when a state agency or a think tank starts using the numbers without providing context, reader beware.