‘MeToo’ Sends Anti-Discrimination Agency Budget Request Soaring

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/02/13/metoo-sends-anti-discrimination-agency-budget-request-soaring/

By Michael P. Norton
State House News Service

As it responds to a “deluge” of requests for assistance from alleged sexual harassment victims and employers seeking anti-harassment training, the state’s anti-discrimination agency is calling on lawmakers to deliver a $500,000 funding increase in next year’s budget.

According to testimony delivered in Worcester at a hearing on Governor Charlie Baker’s $40.9 billion state budget proposal, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination’s investigators are handling 110 cases on average, compared to 60 cases per investigator in Connecticut, and 35 per investigator in New York.

In addition to gender identity laws approved in 2012 and 2016, agency workers are also trying to uphold protections granted by laws passed between 2014 and 2017 affecting domestic workers, veterans, pregnant workers, and employees who take job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

“At the same time our workload is increasing, we are also witnessing a deluge of sexual harassment victims coming forward with their stories and seeking assistance of the MCAD,” commission chairman Sunila Thomas George wrote in testimony submitted to the House and Senate Ways and Means committees. “Additionally, both private and public sector entities are requesting sexual harassment trainings at a staggering pace.”

The commission has long fielded complaints pertaining to unfair treatment in employment, housing, public places, access to education, lending, and credit.

The agency offers impartial assessments to people and the opportunity for people to file discrimination complaints and obtain confidential investigations. In addition to mediation and conciliation attempts, the agency may award victim-specific relief, emotional distress damages, and outcomes that include mandatory training, policy changes, and monitoring of businesses and employers. The agency may also order civil penalties against employers.

The agency’s backlog of cases under active investigation for more than 18 months stood at 357 as of January 1, 2018, a 62 percent reduction since January 1, 2017.

At 2,877, its total inventory of cases under active investigation in 2017 was down from 4,959 in 2013, according to exhibits submitted by George.

January 2018 featured a spike in sexual harassment complaints, at 29, compared to 13 in January 2017, 16 in January 2016, and 18 in January 2015.

Saying she hoped the agency could hire six workers, George is urging lawmakers to annualize a $250,000 budget boost included in a recently approved supplemental budget and then invest $500,000 more in MCAD. The agency’s state appropriation for fiscal year 2018 (which ends this coming Jun 30) was $2.95 million.

George said MCAD is experiencing an “overwhelming number of informational calls, press inquiries, and public records requests related to heightened public awareness of sexual harassment.” The funding increase, she said, would equip the agency “with the resources necessary to prevent and respond to a nationwide epidemic of sexual harassment, including an unprecedented number of allegations in the Commonwealth.”

Lawmakers are reviewing Governor Baker’s fiscal year 2019 budget with the House planning to introduce its reworked version in April.

The governor’s office lists MCAD’s expected state spending in fiscal year 2018 at $2,957,196, and Baker has proposed a $2,986,768 appropriation, along with $3.3 million in “fees and federal reimbursement retained revenue” and $410,000 in retained revenue for a discrimination prevention program.