Kansas City government has settled some expensive discrimination lawsuits recently, and an audit Wednesday highlighted serious flaws in the city’s discrimination investigation process.
But the city’s human resources director said additional investigators have been hired and the system is improving.
City employees told the city auditor’s office that equal employment opportunity complaints about discrimination, harassment and retaliation were taking too long to resolve and could be costly.
City Auditor Doug Jones said the audit grew out of that information, and while it won’t halt lawsuits that result from complaints, it points to the need for a much more efficient investigations process at City Hall.
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“The settlements (of lawsuits) are an outcome of this whole process,” Jones said. “The hope is by improving the efficiency of the process, we will do a better job of doing the investigations, communicating with the complainants so they feel they have been heard. It’s also going to be stressful for anybody that’s been accused. So getting these things done as quickly as possible is important for everybody in the process.”
He said dealing with the complaints effectively could also potentially head off some future lawsuits.
In the past two months, the City Council has approved settlements to three workplace lawsuits from Kansas City water lab chemists totaling nearly $1.5 million.
The audit report was discussed Wednesday by the City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee.
“Clearly these are important complaints that need to be taken seriously, They’re also costly,” observed committee member Kevin McManus.
The audit said the EEO office closed 147 complaint cases from May 1, 2014, through April 30, 2016, with the most common complaints for discrimination or harassment. The audit found that the EEO office did not have a record of all submitted complaints, did not clearly document reasons cases were or were not investigated, did not document connections between evidence and conclusions, and did not reliably track timeliness of investigations.
The audit recommended ways for the city to improve its investigations process and procedures to ensure EEO database information is accurate and complete.
Human Resources Director Gary O’Bannon agreed with all the recommendations and said remedies are already in process.
O’Bannon told the committee that the EEO office has only one investigator for the period covered by the audit, and he was asking for more. He got authorization for two more investigators and the office was fully staffed as of July 2016.
He said they are addressing the concerns raised in the audit and “these issues are in the rearview window.” He said the goal is to complete investigations in 90 days.
The committee asked for an update in six months to ensure progress is occurring.