GLAA decries ongoing backlog at Office of Human Rights
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DC Human Rights Law

GLAA on Human Rights

GLAA decries ongoing backlog at Office of Human Rights


Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013-5265
(202)667-5139

March 20, 2000

The Honorable Kathy Patterson
Chairman
Committee on Government Operations
Council of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Mrs. Patterson:

I am submitting this statement for the record of your committee’s hearings on the FY 2001 budget for the Office of Human Rights (OHR) on March 17. I wanted to delay our formal testimony until I had heard the Acting Director of OHR, Mr. Charles Holman, testify and answer your questions that day.

Before turning to the proposed new budget, I would like to pick up on a theme emphasized by Mr. Rick Rosendall of our organization at your committee’s February 25 oversight hearings on OHR. He noted that we have found three instances in the past several months where the anti-discrimination language incorporated in draft rules for various D.C. government agencies failed to reflect the full range of classes protected under the D.C. Human Rights Law of 1977. The full list of protected classes includes: Race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income, and place of business or residence.

Accordingly, GLAA President Bob Summersgill sent a letter to Mayor Williams on March 17 asking him to issue an Executive Order mandating that all D.C. government anti-discrimination policies include the full list of protected classes. He also asked that OHR take a leading role in assuring compliance with this Executive Order. A copy of that letter was submitted to you last Friday.

Turning now to the proposed FY 2001 OHR budget, the most distressing news contained in the supporting documents is that the agency’s backlog remains at roughly 700 cases. Mrs. Patterson, I have been attending these budget hearings for the last five years, and have seen no meaningful progress in reducing this backlog. It seems to range consistently between 650 and 750 cases. This translates into an average wait of several years between the time someone files a complaint and the time when they can expect a ruling of some sort from OHR.

Every year an OHR representative will explain optimistically why this backlog will be reduced in the fiscal year ahead. And every year that representative will have to explain why the promises of the previous year could not be kept.

The FY 2001 budget shows an increase of about $100,000 (8%) over current levels, supporting an increase from 16 to 18 FTE’s. There are no projections of what this increase in spending, even if realized (which has never been a sure thing), will do for the backlog. It is encouraging to note that OHR will soon see seven additional volunteer mediators from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (a.k.a. “Metro”) to help reduce the number of mediation cases in the backlog. But the total number of such cases is currently 130, a modest proportion of the total backlog; this it itself a reduction from the 206 cases in the mediation unit backlog one year ago, so we are making progress here. Yet the total number of cases remains stubbornly around 700.

We can not expect to reduce this total backlog to an acceptable level through minor increments in funding, supplemented by the heroic work of volunteers. What we need is the development of a comprehensive, multi-year plan to attack this backlog through additional investigators, EEO specialists, and appropriate support staff. It can’t be done in one year; but if we never develop a long-range plan, it will never happen at all.

A comprehensive plan will require a temporary bulge in OHR budget and staffing to reduce the backlog to acceptable levels. Once this goal is achieved, OHR will need funding and staffing at a level sufficient to keep a backlog from re-emerging. GLAA does not wish to dictate how long the backlog reduction process should take; but we need a road map from the Williams Administration and the Council to get started.

The current excessive backlog is grossly unfair to those who have been kept waiting for years to see their complaints handled. It is also a deterrent that keeps those victimized by discrimination today from filing complaints with OHR. We at GLAA are tired of having to tell gay men and lesbians who feel they have been victimized that they will have to wait years before they can expect any action from OHR if they file a complaint. The alternative, going to court to enforce the Human Rights Law, is prohibitively expensive for most ordinary people.

The backlog must be brought under control, once and for all.

Sincerely,

Craig Howell
Secretary

cc: Charles Holman, Acting Director, Office of Human Rights
Carlene Cheatam, Office of the Mayor


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