The Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC) is taking at least upwards of 7 ½ months to assign investigators in employment discrimination cases. In practical terms, this means that discrimination charges wait months before they are investigated, and claimants can wait for over a year for those investigations to conclude from the time they file a charge.
So what is going on and why does it matter? What can employees who believe they were discriminated against on the job do to prosecute cases in the meantime?
Delays at the NEOC
Currently the NEOC is experiencing staffing shortages. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has instituted a state employee hiring freeze and that freeze appears to have impacted the NEOC. A renewed attention to sexual harassment from the #MeToo movement may also be increasing discrimination claims.
What’s the advantage of filing a charge with the NEOC?
In 13 years of representing employees, I believe the primary benefit to filing a charge with the NEOC is to have investigator build a case file. I may quibble with methods or conclusions of the investigations, but the investigations often uncover solid evidence that can be used in later in litigation.
The NEOC is also somewhat helpful in conciliating or settling charges short of trial. There is nothing wrong a prompt resolution of claim that provides closure, certainty and compensation for a wronged employee.
When employees have to wait at least 7-8 months to even have an investigator assigned, wronged employees have to wait for those benefits and, in my opinion, that delay diminishes those benefits that come from filing a charge with the NEOC.
Alternatives to NEOC: OHHR and the LCHR
Employees who work in Omaha or Lincoln, can file charges with Omaha Human Rights and Relations Commission and Lincoln Commission on Human Rights (I have been an LCHR Commissioner since 2014) OHHR and LCHR investigate charges much faster than the NEOC.
At the February meeting of the LCHR three employment discrimination claims were voted on by the Commission. Those claims were filed roughly 60-90 days before the hearing. OHHR aims to process charges within 100-120 days of filing.
OHHR and LCHR investigators are as good as NEOC investigators and are effective at settling or conciliating claims. OHHR and LCHR also investigate smaller employees that the NEOC can’t. The OHHR also expressly investigates sexual orientation claims while the NEOC would have to shoehorn such an investigation into a “sex-plus” framework.
Why you might not need to file a discrimination charge at all
Nebraska allows employees to file discrimination and retaliation cases directly in state court under Neb. Rev. Stat. 20-148 if they are filed within 300 days of the last act of discrimination. Employees don’t need to file an administrative charge of discrimination with the NEOC, EEOC or any other agency.
There are lots of fair employment laws that don’t require filing a charge with a government agency to file suit. This includes all wage and hour laws, including the Equal Pay Act. Employees also do not need to file a discrimination charge in order to bring a common law retaliation case. Finally, African-Americans do not need to file a discrimination charge to bring an action under 42 USC 1981.
What to do if your claim is stuck at the NEOC
Nebraska law allows an employee to request a “right to sue” letter at any point during the NEOC process. If you jointly file a charge with the EEOC, you can request a right to sue letter on a federal charge after 180 days from filing.
Watch out in disability discrimination cases
Due to recent court decisions in Nebraska about the definition of disability, it is probably prudent for employees in Nebraska to bring charges of disability discrimination under both state and federal law which often times means filing a charge with NEOC and EEOC. The NEOC usually jointly files discrimination charges under state and federal law.
I don’t like writing “pitchy” posts, but because of the backlog at the NEOC, if you feel you have been discriminated or retaliated against on the job in Nebraska, call an experienced employment attorney before you call the NEOC. Bluntly, you may not have a case and you may be making the NEOCs backlog worse by filing a weak claim. But even if you don’t have a strong discrimination claim you can still get advice about a severance agreement, help on an unemployment claim or find out that maybe you have a workers’ compensation or wage and hour claim.
If you do have a strong claim, you may not need to file a charge with the NEOC or file a discrimination charge at all in order to pursue your rights in court.