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TURNING EMPLOYER WRONGS INTO EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

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DFEH Under Fire – Continued Part 2

DFEH Director, Phyllis Cheng, recently announced changes to its system of discrimination complaint acceptance. Until several years ago, employees filing complaints, or people with housing discrimination issues called and spoke to an investigator or submitted their complaints in writing.

Then the Department dropped over $700,000 to a North Carolina company, Logic Bit Software, to license their online system. As system which was originally designed for law firms, and not statewide agencies. The company apparently did little to tailor its system for the State, even though they paid a premium, leaving the investigators and the public with a program that was difficult, at best and downright dangerous, at worst.

The poor performance of the Department began to draw the attention of the Federal government. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development pays the DFEH for each residential discrimination case it handles, paying up to $2,600 per case. That maximum amount is transferred if the DFEH completes its investigation and closes the case within 100 days of the report.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing, for the year ending in June of 2013 was at an average of closing only 10 percent of the 466 residential discrimination cases closed on behalf of HUD. Cheng blamed the Department’s poor performance on budget cutbacks…a disingenuous argument when you’re not doing the work to make the money needed to fund your department.

Fair Employment and Housing’s lower case-closure rate turned into lost revenue for the department’s $21 million budget.

HUD paid the state just $771,000 in complaint-processing fees in 2012-13, down from the previous low of $1.3 million the year before. The record high, $3.1 million in fees collected, came in 2008-09, four years before Houdini’s launch and during a period when employees were on furlough two days per month.

Federal officials also noticed that the quality of investigations had declined. According to HUD’s April assessment, complex cases that needed “independent corroboration” with on-site investigation were getting short shrift.

Herrera said that he and his colleagues often had to make difficult choices between pushing though a growing mountain of complaints or deeper investigations.

“We didn’t have time for that after Houdini launched,” he recalled. “You’d want to go out on a case, but those three or four hours in the field would come back and bite you.”

But the Department of Housing and Urban Development was not the only customer of the DFEH that was having issues. Employees filing complaints, assuming they made it through the online interface, were horrified to learn that many of the complaints were not being directed to investigators, but instead were going directly to their employers!