Wall Street Journal

EEOC Downgrades 8 Offices,
Cuts Number of Field Lawyers
July 11, 2005; Page A10

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission downgraded several of its district offices in a reorganization that reduces the number of senior attorneys in the field.

The plan drew criticism from some Democratic senators and civil-rights groups who say it will hurt enforcement of workplace-discrimination laws. The commission voted 3-1 to downgrade district offices in Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Seattle, New Orleans and San Antonio to field offices reporting to one of the remaining 15 district offices. The Milwaukee district office will be downgraded an additional level to an area office. Two smaller offices will be added, bringing to 53 the total number of EEOC offices nationwide.

The eight offices will no longer have regional attorneys who can refer cases directly to Washington, and instead must go through the remaining 15 district offices where regional attorneys will assume the increased caseloads. Each year, the EEOC receives some 80,000 complaints alleging workplace discrimination but finds enough evidence of violations to file about 350 lawsuits against employers.

Congress has 15 days to respond to the commission's action or the plan goes into effect, according to the EEOC. Commission Chairwoman Cari Dominguez, who introduced the measure, responded to critics who say the measure has moved too fast. She opened the meeting quoting President John F. Kennedy: "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction."

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) responded bluntly: "By slashing the number of regional attorneys, the EEOC's ability to enforce laws against employment discrimination will be diminished." The restructuring is expected to save about $4.8 million over eight years.

Gabrielle Martin, president of an EEOC employee union in Denver and a litigating attorney for the commission said some cases might be overlooked. She and others in the EEOC union plan to press Congress to halt the move.

Write to Gary Fields at gary.fields@wsj.com