Brad Avakian is the Commissioner of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries. Yesterday, he shared with me and several other attorneys around a conference table what he’s doing to ensure BOLI does a better job of enforcing discrimination laws.
Commissioner Avakian started with the statistics. BOLI receives 25,000 to 40,000 calls per year from people who believe they have suffered discrimination in employment or housing. 2,000 to 3,000 people file formal complaints. Of those formal complaints, BOLI finds substantial evidence of discrimination about 10% of the time. That means BOLI spends a lot of its scarce resources investigating the other 90%. So, Avakian’s goal is to (1) unburden innocent employers and landlords faster, (2) spend less agency time on the cases with no merit, and (3) fully investigate and prosecute cases of serious sexual harassment cases or other truly bad conduct of employers or landlords.
Here’s the new program. Discrimination complaints will be categorized as A, B or C cases. “C” cases are the ones that seem to have no merit on their face. Instead of requiring the employer to prepare a formal response, BOLI will dismiss the case and issue a “right to sue letter.” The letter gives the accuser 90 days in which to file a lawsuit if the accuser thinks she has a case worth pursuing in court.
“A” cases are those that BOLI believes are likely to have the most merit and will be investigated thoroughly. “B” cases will get more scrutiny than “C” cases, but might also be dismissed faster than the norm. Over the past several years, it seems like it takes about 11 months to resolve wrongful termination or other employment discrimination complaints. With the new system, some complaints will be resolved right away and others shortly after filing. This will benefit employers, who will not have to waste their time on cases with little apparent merit. It will benefit taxpayers, because BOLI will spend fewer tax dollars investigating crummy cases.
But most important, the new system will help fulfill the goals of Oregon’s anti-discrimination law. More time will be spent enforcing the law against bad actors.
Commissioner Avakian is doing what Republicans and Democrats should both like: he’s doing his job better with less money.
Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation