Daily Labor Report

No. 58 Friday, March 26, 2004  Page C-1 ISSN 1522-5968

Conference Report

EEOC Miller Expresses Qualms on Reorganization; Offers Advice on Best Approaches at EEOC

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif.--Paul Miller, a Democrat on the five-member Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, March 24 voiced concerns about a pending reorganization plan at the civil rights enforcement agency, suggesting that the changes may not be in the best interests of the chronically under funded agency.

EEOC recently agreed to move forward with plans to establish a centralized call center under a two-year project to handle the more than 1 million inquiries received annually. The call center is one of the first steps of a wide-ranging restructuring program that would implement the 2003 recommendations of the National Academy of Public Administration (38 DLR A-1, 2/26/03). Miller, however, told an American Bar Association meeting March 23 that he is skeptical about the proposals.

"I don't believe that a business case for either of these recommendations has been made," he said. "I don't understand how the plan to designate 10 or 11 district offices as 'mega-offices' either strengthens our mission or addresses the agency's funding issue, and I remain unconvinced that redirecting an enormously large amount of EEOC's scarce resources into a centralized call center makes us more efficient or effective. Such a program will not save money, is expensive, and certainly will divert our already overstretched resources away from enforcement," he said.

Miller, who has served as a commissioner for 10 years, has announced his plan to leave the agency when his current term expires in July.

EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez, who planned to address the meeting--a joint session of the ABA's Equal Employment Opportunity and Employment Rights and Responsibilities Committees--cancelled because of a rescheduled appearance before a House appropriations subcommittee March 24 where she was expected to request funding for the call center (see related article in this issue). Earlier this year she told BNA that the establishment of the center was a "top priority" and that the agency was reviewing and assessing other NAPA recommendations, but had yet to make any decisions on their implementation.

Communicating With the CommissionOn another subject, Miller advised the audience of several hundred largely management attorneys on the best approaches to take in communicating with EEOC on behalf of their clients.

When it comes to litigation matters, he suggested attempting to work out issues at the field level and with the regional office handling the case. "They should be your first line of communication with EEOC," he said. If there are problems in the field, the commission's office of field programs at headquarters should be contacted.

"Finally, if you feel you're absolutely stuck or are facing a roadblock, contact one of the commissioners," Miller suggested. But, he added, it is also important to advise the field office attorneys of any communication. "It's best not to ambush them," he said, "particularly since you'll have to continue to work with them."

In contrast to litigation, Miller said that attorneys and other stakeholders should contact commissioners on policy matters. "Before we vote on a policy matter, we're looking for as much information as possible to inform our decision-making. Meetings with stakeholders are enormously helpful to encourage communication to gain insight."

Advice From a Former Commissioner Former EEOC Commissioner Fred Alvarez, who is now a management attorney at Wilson, Sonsisi, Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, Calif., urged attendees to be straightforward but "tough" in their dealings with the agency.

"It's important to be honest with the commission, because your reputation there matters," he said. "You're going to have other cases and, at the end of the day, you're asking them to trust you."

At the same time, he said, the agency respects toughness. "Show that you're tough legally and factually and be consistent in pushing your case," Alvarez said.

"Figure out your defense, before you roll it out," he advised the audience. "You're writing it for the plaintiff--you've got one shot, so get it right."

As far as the commission itself, Alvarez echoed Miller's recommendation of dealing with the agency at the field office level. "In certain circumstances, you'll have to call a commissioner or headquarters, but be cautious," he advised. In the meantime, "read the clues you're getting from them, understand what's on the agency's mind, look at their Web site, and stay engaged.

By Nancy Montwieler