Shifting Dynamic

By Daniel Pulliam

The panel governing the federal agency that enforces workplace antidiscrimination laws is back to full strength for the first time in more than a year, following the Tuesday swearing in of a fifth commissioner.

Christine Griffin was nominated by President Bush on July 28, 2005, to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on Nov. 4. Her term expires July 1, 2009.

"It is an honor to be appointed to the agency responsible for ensuring that all people are treated equally in the workplace," said Griffin, who worked at the agency as a senior staff attorney in the mid-1990s. She also served from 1995 to 1996 as an attorney adviser to Paul Igasaki, formerly the vice chair of EEOC.

The panel members -- presidentially appointed for staggered five-year terms -- make agency policy and approve litigation in consultation with the agency's general counsel.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, said that while she does not know Griffin personally, she is pleased with her disability law experience and hopes she can sway the panel to re-evaluate its agency reorganization plan. Jones formerly was an EEOC trial attorney in Cleveland.

From 1996 to 2005, Griffin served as executive director of the Boston-based Disability Law Center, an advocacy organization. She is a graduate of Boston College Law School and in December 2005, Lawyers Weekly USA named her as one of the nation's top 11 lawyers.

"Christine Griffin brings to the commission a wealth of talent and experience in employment law and disability issues that will serve the American public well," said Cari Dominguez, the commission's chairwoman.

Griffin replaces Paul Steven Miller, one of the longest serving members of the commission. Miller, an expert in disability law, served multiple terms lasting 10 years.

Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru said he appreciates having another Democrat on the panel, which is required by statute to be bipartisan.

"We will benefit by having a full complement of people," Ishimaru said. "I'm frustrated by the lack of information that is presented to members of the commission [at meetings]. There have been times in the past where we've been unable to talk about things because nobody would second a motion."

The EEOC announced on Dec. 22, 2005, that it would go forward with its reorganization plan on Jan. 1, stating that the restructuring would improve customer service and efficiency by reducing the number of managers and administrators.

The plan calls for 15 district offices to oversee nine field offices, 15 area offices and 14 local offices. That entails downgrades for eight district offices.

The plan was approved July 8, 2005 by the commission, but has been criticized by some lawmakers. Last month, Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., sent a letter to Dominguez charging that she had not been willing "to have a productive dialogue" about the plan.

Mikulski is the senior Democrat on the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which appropriates EEOC funding, and Kennedy is the senior Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which authorizes the agency's funding.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report in October stating that the agency failed to consider all options for restructuring presented in a National Academy of Public Administration report published in February 2003.

Nick Inzeo, EEOC director of field programs, said the reorganization changes the titles of some people in management positions and places them in frontline positions. Only two of the eight former district offices had senior executive directors, he said.

The current structure was established in 1979 when the agency had about 3,800 employees. Since then, the agency has been reduced to about 2,400 employees due to rising operational costs.

"You'll find that having 23 district directors for a structure of 3,800 employees is about equivalent to having 15 district directors for about 2,400 employees," Inzeo said.

He said jobs will not be lost, offices will not close and employees are not being relocated. Two new offices in Las Vegas and Mobile, Ala., will be opened and there will be an increase in investigative, mediation and litigation staff. EEOC has predicted that the plan will save $4.8 million over eight years.

The agency has been under a partial hiring freeze in recent years due to budget constraints, Inzeo said, adding that, "like every government manager," he would agree that his agency needs more funding.

The American Federation of Government Employees branch representing EEOC employees criticized the method the agency used to determine how resources would be distributed to offices under the reorganization, and said that the agency lacks business cases to support plans to cut resources for 12 offices.

"As a result of the reorganization, already understaffed district offices get more work, while downsized offices, with even fewer resources, still must address growing claims of discrimination," said Gabrielle Martin, the president of AFGE's National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216.

Martin said that "there will be a lot of maneuvering" on the commission now that Griffin has joined and added that she "brings a real-world perspective to the board, being the new person."