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Federal employees may face long waits for EEOC decisions

Last year, the average time a federal employee waited for a resolution of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint was 543 days. The reasons include a large backlog, a shortage of funding, perhaps a lack of leadership -- and the #MeToo movement, which has prompted a flood of new complaints to the agency.

The EEOC operates on two parallel paths. One is for private-sector employees, who are waiting about 295 days, on average, for their complaints to be resolved. The other is for federal employees, who make initial complaints to their own agencies' equal employment office, which conducts its own investigation. Depending on the result of that investigation, the employee could file a lawsuit against their agency -- or they could ask for a hearing with an EEOC administrative law judge (ALJ).

In 2016, there were only 73 ALJs at the EEOC to handle about 20,000 cases. At the end of that year there were still 13,500 cases to be heard. One lawyer told the Associated Press that she has clients who have waited five years for a hearing.

Take the case of Ann G. At 34, she was a DEA agent with hopes of an overseas assignment. She was told that she shouldn't want that because her husband could get bored and divorce her. She and 70 other agents sued, claiming the DEA was denying women promotions and foreign assignments based on gender.

By the time an ALJ ruled in her favor she was 52 and retired. "All the emotional distress - the anger, the anxiety," she said. "They say time heals everything. But what happens if something just never ends?"

The reality is that many people give up. They may accept settlements, or they may leave their jobs. Or, they may simply remain and endure the discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

If you have a discrimination complaint, what can be done to expedite it?

As we mentioned above, your agency's equal employment office will perform an investigation before the EEOC even gets involved. If your agency's EEO finds in your favor, you may not have to involve the EEOC at all.

Thorough preparation and attention to detail are crucial if you are to prevail before the EEO. It's best to consult with a federal employment law attorney before you file a complaint. Your lawyer can help you organize your complaint and provide convincing evidence -- and can work to protect you from illegal retaliation.

If you have already filed your complaint, a lawyer can help you prepare your case and respond to any inquiries during the EEO investigation. There are time limitations, however, so you should contact an attorney right away.

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