Volume of Civil Rights Complaints May Mean More Investigators

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As a direct result of a record high number of civil rights complaints, the US Department of Education is seeking to hire 200 additional investigators, which would increase its civil rights division by 30%.

The workload completed by attorneys at the civil rights office has increased by 50% since 2007.  The number of unresolved cases have seen an even higher amount of growth as complaints continue to arrive concerning students from around the country concerning a number of discrimination issues.

“Some of this is about the community believing that we’re here and we’re in business and we’re prepared to do the work,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, the department’s secretary for civil rights.

She went on to say that a portion of the increase was from guidance issued from her office as a reminder to the public about the protections that exist under federal law as well as how to best report illegalities.

The department has seen an increase in complaints over the past few years, seeing a record high of 9,989 this year from 6,364 in the fiscal year 2009.  Another record is expected to be set at the end of this fiscal year in September.  Lhamon said it is a sign that “we have the trust of the national community bringing to us their deepest hurts and asking for resolution.”

Lhamon said a number of the cases brought to the department are dismissed as they do not fall within their jurisdiction.  While she did not say what percentage of cases are dismissed, she did mention that the act of dismissing the case is in itself time consuming because the investigator must come to that conclusion, writes Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post.

The Department of Education released its budget proposal for next year, in which it asks for an increase of $30.7 million, bringing its grand total to $131 million for the Office of Civil Rights.  The additional funding would be used to hire 200 additional staff members including lawyers and investigators.  The office currently employs 554 people.

The increase in staff members would reduce the stress placed on current staff, allowing complaints to be dealt with in a more timely manner.  The number of cases that have been waiting for at least 180 days have increased in number over the last 5 years, from 315 to 630.

“I have a very real concern about our ability to do the work the way we want to do it, and the way students who rely on us want it done, if we cannot get the resources we need to handle the caseload,” Lhamon said.

Sex discrimination accounts for 24% of all complaints the department receives.  Stanford has recently been included in the department’s list of schools under investigation for its handling of sexual assault cases after a complaint was filed by student Leah Francis.  Francis had started a series of student protests last June after Stanford released its decision concerning a sexual assault case she had filed against another student in 2014, writes Catherine Zaw for The Stanford Daily.