One more thing about the MEOC

From the pages of In Business magazine.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is actually a legal maxim, and it means that if legal redress is available for neither party to a legal dispute, those parties have both suffered an injury. Not having a final decision in a timely fashion is effectively the same as having no redress or justice at all.

My February column alluded to this by noting there are five still undecided discrimination cases against reputable employers before the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission, three-and-half years after their initial MEOC hearing. As noted, the city’s Equal Opportunities Division is aware of the backlog and is pinning its hopes on a new software system it is in the process of procuring. While we’re giving the MEOC the benefit of the doubt on technology, some process improvements might also be in order.

Process improvements have been tried before, with good results. Under former Mayor Joel Skornicka, who served in that capacity from 1979–83, new appointments to the MEOC reengineered the commission’s probable cause process and sped up the final decision-making process. The 1980s restructuring had the blessing of the late Rev. James Wright, who then served as the organization’s executive director, and it successfully reduced the length of the average case to less than one year.

More recent restructuring, in which the city’s Equal Opportunities Division was folded into the newly created Department of Civil Rights, failed to produce an expedited process. If the technology solution fails to produce results, the city should consider contracting out the task of determining probable cause to experienced lawyers and use any resulting savings to hire a second hearing examiner. Other MEOC process reforms have been implemented, but this idea could have the most immediate impact on the time it takes to determine whether discrimination exists, without bias and without having a full-time MEOC probable cause investigator who critics charge is incentivized to rule in favor of probable cause.

Since it has happened before with good results, it would be best if the city reformed its own process. Nearly four years after these five MEOC cases were heard and argued before an MEOC administrative law judge, neither plaintiff nor defendants have received a written decision. It took less time to win World War II, so let’s keep an open mind about the need for process improvements.

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