Statement of Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru Opposing

The EEOC Field Restructuring Proposal


At the Public Meeting of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on

May 16, 2005



In this year of the 40th anniversary of the EEOC, we are being asked to vote on a proposal to restructure the agency that, if approved, will lead the agency down a path to irrelevancy.  This proposal is objectionable primarily because it will decrease the EEOC’s presence in local communities, will lead to inferior litigation, and fails to address the lack of substantial race discrimination cases being brought by the agency.  This proposal is presented as merely a redrawing of maps, a mere shift in geographic boundaries.  But this proposal is much more than that.  This proposal asks us to examine what we value, what our priorities should be and how we should set out to achieve them. 


I hope we would all agree that our first priority must be enforcement of the statutes we cover.  But as I have discovered in my time here, “enforcement” means different things to different people.  To me, “enforcement” of civil rights statutes implies a high-quality, comprehensive enforcement plan encompassing a variety of factors—outreach, investigation, conciliation, and litigation. The proposal before us touts different values such as efficiency and measures EEOC’s accomplishments only by numbers—the number of charges processed, the number of cases filed—but has little regard for quality.


Because quality enforcement is what I value, that is the perspective from which I have evaluated this proposal.  I have concluded that, as a whole, this repositioning proposal simply does not move us towards the goal of quality enforcement of civil rights statutes. 


I. The Proposal Decreases the EEOC’s Presence


This repositioning proposal promotes the wrong values because it will decrease our presence in local communities.  The proposal downgrades successful offices, reduces their size, removes their authority to approve litigation, and removes from their function the requirement to do systemic work.  These changes essentially ensure that the experienced staff in these offices will leave soon.  Wade Henderson, the Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, correctly warned us at the one public meeting we had on repositioning in 2003 that “reducing the capacity of individual offices, even if a nominal presence is maintained, ultimately could have the same effect on a particular community as shutting down an office in its entirety.”  In other words, without quality, presence is meaningless.


One of the main points made by the Chair in presenting this proposal has been that no offices are closing—focusing only on the number of offices.  But the quality of the offices matters just as much and maybe more than the number.  As the EEOC working group on repositioning stated in its 2003 report:


Our collective experience demonstrates that presence in a community makes a difference in the Commission’s ability to effectively enforce [anti-discrimination] laws.  Commitment to that presence as evidenced by staff resources and senior management is essential to carry out the work of the Commission.  The current field structure has worked well.  The Commission’s success since the implementation of [priority charge handling processing] and the increased emphasis on enforcement and legal staff working together demonstrate that the current field structure has been and continues to be effective.


 Meaningful presence improves our enforcement.  This plan significantly reduces our presence, and thus, will be detrimental to our enforcement.



II. The Proposal Will Decrease the EEOC’s Litigation


Our litigation program is vital to our success in enforcement.  As the representative for the Regional Attorneys stated at the one public meeting we had on restructuring, in 2003:


We believe that a strong litigation program is an important part of the Agency as it is structured today and that a strong litigation program remains important as we discuss an Agency that is positioning itself for the future….

It is also our experience that a strong litigation program contributes to the success of other parts of our program. Employers are more receptive to efforts of proactive prevention. We're more willing to participate in mediation. And we're willing to resolve charges through settlement and conciliation because [employers] know the EEOC will litigate if that is necessary.


A strong litigation program shows that we value eliminating discrimination in the workplace.  By bringing difficult cases that have an impact on an industry, by taking on large employers with more resources than our agency, and by bringing cases that clarify and strengthen anti-discrimination laws, we show that we will not be intimidated and we will not turn a blind eye to discrimination.  We show that we are not just concerned about our numbers – how many case brought, how many won – but that we are concerned about doing the right thing. 


The proposal does not meet the goal of quality enforcement because in time, it will decimate our legal presence.  Again, the response focuses on the numbers—we are not downsizing our workforce.  But, in fact, the people are losing their jobs—the jobs they hold will no longer exist. At least one layer of review for litigation will be added in the former district offices, and undoubtedly, some of our most experienced attorneys will retire or leave. 


One of the justifications given for the reorganization is that it will save money, and this justification is based on the assumption that our experienced attorneys will leave.  There are no guarantees that these people will be replaced by attorneys, if their positions are filled at all.


I fear that this proposal is simply setting up our litigation programs to fail, in a manner reminiscent of the call center decision.  In the call center case, we did not hire to replace administrative, intake, or investigator positions, complained when offices could not return calls promptly, and then outsourced the function.  It is not hard to see the super-regional attorneys being told that they are not competently managing all of their litigation units, leading to the dismantling of these units in certain offices.


III. The Proposal Does not Improve the EEOC’s Southern Offices


The proposal does not move us towards the goal of quality enforcement because it will further hamper our abilities to enforce anti-discrimination laws in the South.


It is not an overstatement to say that this agency exists because of race.  Discrimination against African Americans was the main impetus for Title VII—and we are a product of that statute.  The states that have the highest percentages of African Americans are Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland.  The proposed reorganization does not improve the offices in these states.  The New Orleans and Baltimore offices are being downgraded from District Offices and the Atlanta and Birmingham offices are having their jurisdictions extended without seeing an increase in personnel. 


Our work in some of these states needs substantial improvement.  In the last few years, race discrimination cases from Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama have been close to non-existent and have been cases with minimal impact beyond the individual victim and employer.  Louisiana has been slightly better and Maryland has been much better—both are rewarded in this restructuring proposal by being downgraded. 


One would expect that the low number of cases filed—in the last year Birmingham filed one race case, and Atlanta none—would come to the attention of those who measure success almost completely based on numbers.  And it has.  When I started asking questions about our race litigation in the South, no one was surprised.  Everyone knew there was a problem. 


This restructuring proposal provided an excellent opportunity to address this issue, but it is silent on this issue.  Some will argue that this problem has been addressed by adding one new office in Mobile.  The office, however, will be staffed only with the smallest complement of investigators and no attorneys.  Meanwhile, the Birmingham and Atlanta offices will also be given additional territory to cover, and Atlanta is left to languish with only two trial attorneys.  This proposal in no way addresses the problem pertaining to our work in the South.


IV. The Proposal Should Include a Headquarters Component


 The proposal is being marketed as part of a three-part plan, with changes to headquarters being the last.  It seems elementary that the headquarters/field dichotomy helps no one and ignores that resources, people, and ideas flow from both and that we work for the same agency.  Changes to the agency of this magnitude should not be done piecemeal.  There should be one, cohesive proposal addressing both headquarters and the field that moves us toward thinking and acting as one agency.


V. The Time Line for the Proposal Does Not Allow for Vital Input from Employees or Stakeholders


Finally, this proposal fails to move us closer to our goal because the process by which it has been presented shows an astonishing and embarrassing lack of respect for our own employees, civil rights stakeholders, and elected officials.  For reasons that have not been explained, the proposal, which has been in development for three years, was presented to Commissioners on a Friday, to employees on the following Tuesday, and a vote was scheduled for the following Monday – just over one week after the initial presentation to the Commissioners.   Full implementation of the proposal is expected to be as early as June 1 – only a little over two weeks from the vote expected to approve the proposal.  Employees and civil rights organizations were not asked for their input on the specifics of this proposal.  In fact, to my knowledge, the first meeting civil rights organizations had with any member of the Commission about this plan for reorganization was with me—not with those who developed the proposal. 


Why this failure to obtain input?  Again, the response is a number.  We held one meeting on repositioning in 2003.  At that one meeting on repositioning, the regional attorney representative stated:


While we welcomed the opportunity to speak here today, it is difficult to make concrete comments about any specific restructuring or repositioning, because to our knowledge, no such plan or proposal has been articulated, either publicly or within the Agency.  It is difficult to say anything about the merits of reconfiguring or closing or downsizing or restructuring or relocating this office or that function, when, insofar as we know, no such plan or proposal exists.


Significantly, at that meeting, Max Stier, President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, in discussing how to set up the process for repositioning stated: “I think that getting that shared buy-in is a very important element to success, and that buy-in comes from early involvement of stakeholders, including, obviously, employees.” 


Similarly, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Report on our restructuring recommended that the EEOC develop a communication strategy and plan that identifies, among other things, all internal and external stakeholders, the frequency of communications, and the mechanisms for stakeholder feedback.  NAPA stated that the communications strategy and plan “are at the heart of successful implementation of [its] recommendations. The strategy must include a philosophy of open, candid sharing of information and listening to the feedback it generates; top-down as well as bottom-up communications channels within the organization that include executives, managers, supervisors, employees and union representatives; and a commitment to involving external stakeholders, including interest groups…and congressional committees and staffs.”


NAPA recommended that we develop a communications plan on restructuring that would meet the following goals:

  • Provide EEOC Commissioners, executives, managers, supervisors, employees, union representatives with accurate, consistent information about the objectives, the desired outcomes, and the detailed actions and activities involved with the EEOC’s restructuring plan, and its implementation and communications plans.
  • Provide EEOC external stakeholders, including interest groups and Congress with insight and information about the restructuring plan, implementation and communications plan.
  • Create an “inclusive open environment in which feedback is sought from all internal and external stakeholders” on restructuring with feedback provided to stakeholders as the work progresses. 


I cannot understand why a path that insults our employees, stakeholders, Senators, and Representatives has been taken instead of the path that NAPA recommended.


We have also been told that people have had the opportunity to submit comments regarding the EEOC’s structure for three years.  Clearly, people outside the agency do not agree that they have had enough opportunity to comment.  Because of the short time between the notification of the proposal and the date for a vote to approve the proposal and the lack of information they were given, stakeholder groups have asked that the Chair allow this meeting to be one at which questions are posed and answered, and no vote taken.  We have also received letters from over 20 Senators and several Representatives asking that we postpone the vote so that there will be more time for the proposal to be analyzed. 


We who sit up here today hold these positions for the length of our terms—the structure we create or change will last much longer than that.  We owe it to those who were here before us and those who will be doing this work after we have left—the employees whose civil rights we protect, EEOC employees, and civil rights stakeholders—to answer their questions publicly and to listen to their ideas.  Their input will improve any plan, increase the chances that the change will be accepted, and is simply the decent and respectful thing to do. 


At its core, our mission is to make sure that people have an equal opportunity to find work, maintain employment, and be treated equally at their workplace free from discrimination.  It is no understatement to say that a person’s ability to do that—find and keep a job—can make or break their lives.  Our jobs influence where we can live, our health care options, our education possibilities, and the schools our children attend.  The laws we enforce acknowledge the central role employment plays in people’s lives, and endeavor to protect it.  Because the EEOC protects what is of such great value to so many people, we have a responsibility to do our work well. 


We know from the census that the number of minorities in this country is increasing, as is the number of women working and the number of older individuals; our commitment to civil rights not only represents our history, it is also our future.  This proposal is the wrong way to move toward the enforcement of these essential rights.  I urge my colleagues not to vote on this proposal today.  If a vote must be taken, I urge them to vote against it.