President Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 would slash the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s historically low budget by $23.7 million, which will make it harder for workers facing discrimination to get the help they need, the union representing EEOC workers said today.
“The EEOC enforces federal laws barring workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment, and cutting our budget frustrates those efforts,” said Gabrielle Martin, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 216, the National Council of EEOC Locals. “Victims of workplace discrimination will feel the punch of this cut when they can’t get an appointment or an investigation of their complaint.”
The administration is proposing to slash EEOC’s current budget from $379.5 million to $355.8 million in fiscal 2020, even while the agency is facing rising workloads. EEOC had a backlog of 49,608 cases in fiscal year 2018, and cases continued to pile up while EEOC was closed during the 35-day shutdown. It takes workers months to get an appointment with EEOC and over an hour to reach a live person by telephone. EEOC’s workload this year included 200,000 inquiries, 76,418 charges, 40,000 interviews, and 105,600 calls.
Sexual harassment claims were up 13.6 percent in 2018. While Congress modestly increased EEOC’s budget in response to the #MeToo movement, the agency still has not been able to keep up with demand. Last year, the EEOC’s workforce dropped below 2,000 employees for the first time since before 1980. The president’s budget plan would slash another 180 positions, including mediators, judges, intake representatives, and 50 investigators. The agency’s budget justification concedes there will be a “steady rise in pending inventory” as “there will be no replacement of staff.”
“In a time of rising awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, it sends the entirely wrong message to cut funding and staff at the agency that handles those complaints,” Martin said.
One consequence of the massive workload and short staffing is a push by EEOC to swiftly close cases by tagging them as “C charges” under the agency’s triage system.
“Ravaging the budget will make matters worse,” Martin warns. “The vast majority of workers who come to EEOC for help receive a dismissal with a ‘right to sue’ letter and are left to find help on their own. Likewise, federal employees with discrimination complaints are affected by EEOC pressing a shrinking unit of administrative judges to hit unattainably high quotas by closing cases through summary judgement or without discovery.”
Martin called upon Congress, civil rights groups, and concerned citizens to take action. “Contact your lawmakers to save EEOC from drastic cuts. Email the EEOC to request a budget in line with its workload. Tweet #StopEEOCbudgetcut. The #MeToo era is not the time to slash EEOC’s budget.”