U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Executive Order 13166, 65 Fed. Reg. 50,119 (Aug. 16, 2000), directs all Federal agencies to “examine the services [they] provide and develop and implement a system by which [limited English proficient (LEP)] persons can meaningfully access those services consistent with, and without unduly burdening, the fundamental mission of the agency.” On December 22, 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) issued its original LEP Plan, in which the Commission noted the importance of providing the LEP community with meaningful access to EEOC services. The initial Plan also described the EEOC’s then-current efforts to provide services to the LEP community and the steps we planned to take in order to ensure that a proper level of service would continue to be available to persons with little or no facility to communicate with the EEOC in English.
This document updates our original plan and reiterates the EEOC’s commitment to the LEP community. The mission of the EEOC is to eradicate employment discrimination in the workplace. The Commission long has recognized that to fulfill this mission, we must reach out to all segments of the nation’s workforce, which includes the millions of workers who read and speak languages other than English and who may not be conversant in the English language. Despite a history of limited resources, EEOC remains committed to providing meaningful access of our outreach and enforcement programs to LEP persons.
The Commission’s current outreach efforts to the LEP community began with issuance of a National Enforcement Plan (NEP) in 1996, and continued with the 1999 establishment of task force groups to examine, among other concerns, efforts on behalf of migrant workers and low wage earners and issues relating to national origin discrimination. Both of these task forces addressed issues that affect members of LEP communities. More recently, the EEOC issued a new section to its compliance manual, Section 13: National Origin Discrimination, in which the EEOC addresses different national origin issues arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.
EEOC also prepared and submitted a “Strategic Plan for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders” (AAPI) in response to a White House initiative on AAPIs – an initiative designed to improve the quality of life of AAPIs though increased access and participation in federal programs. The Commission’s AAPI Plan addresses outreach efforts, including use of a variety of print and electronic media outlets; meetings with advocacy groups; and preparation and distribution of public information materials “targeted to the needs of the AAPI community.” These efforts also include translation of materials for AAPI members who also belong to various LEP communities. Further, our three-year Outreach Plan outlines our commitment to increased communication with under served communities and to provide materials in languages other than English, and to make bilingual services available to persons who are of limited English proficiency.
EEOC, both at headquarters and in its District, Area, and Local Offices (referred to herein as “HQ” and “field offices”), has engaged in various activities designed to extend our enforcement, education, and technical assistance to LEP communities throughout the nation. As critical components of the Commission’s nondiscrimination efforts, these activities include the outreach, investigation, resolution, and litigation of charges alleging discrimination against LEP charging parties; adapting reporting systems to capture information about LEP activities; approving new bilingual position descriptions for field office use; distributing instructions to field staff on the provision of language assistance services; and developing and maintaining relationships with LEP stakeholders, such as:
Despite limited funding, the Commission has contracted for the translation of various publications into different languages. The EEOC has translated six documents describing the laws that EEOC enforces in the following languages: Spanish, Haitian/Creole, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Arabic, and Chinese. These and 11 other translated documents are now available to the public through our Publications Distribution Center. (See Appendix D).1 In addition, our field offices have translated various documents that they use in support of their enforcement efforts, including charge intake questionnaires and locally developed brochures addressing the needs of specific groups in additional languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, French, Punjabi, and Farsi. Financial constraints and the expense of competent professional translation have limited the number of documents translated as well as the number of languages into which we have translated documents. As funding becomes available, more documents will be translated and made available for distribution. The EEOC is also preparing documents in these same seven languages for addition to its public web site. Our effort to include such documents on the web has been constrained by limited funds, but we are hopeful of including documents discussing basic EEO issues, describing the laws that the EEOC enforces and how to file a charge, and explaining the EEOC process once a charge has been filed. Document encompassing these topics should be on the web by the end of the next fiscal year (FY2004).
In the days following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the EEOC engaged in a forceful effort to combat backlash discrimination. This multifaceted effort included the following:
Principally through use of in-house staff, the EEOC has been able to provide services to most members of the LEP community who have sought our assistance when raising allegations of workplace discrimination. As we noted in our initial Plan, the EEOC employs several hundred bilingual and multilingual employees in various capacities nationwide. Almost all of our field offices include personnel fluent in Spanish, and many offices also include employees conversant in some of the languages spoken by significant portions of the larger local LEP communities (e.g., Vietnamese in Houston and Los Angeles, Arabic in Detroit, Cantonese and Mandarin in San Francisco). We also have established relationships with other federal departments and agencies and with community-based organizations and have been able to obtain assistance whenever our in-house resources have been unavailable or we have not had EEOC personnel fluent in the specific language needed. Finally, at least five EEOC offices have made use of private sector language service companies when necessary to meet the needs of specific individuals that could not be met through other means.
Under the Executive Order, EEOC is responsible for preparing and implementing a plan to improve LEP persons’ access to our programs and activities. In order to understand the programs and activities to which the Executive Order applies, we provide the following brief overview of the function of the Commission.
EEOC is a law enforcement agency. We enforce six Federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination against persons who may be applicants for employment, current employees, or former employees. These laws are: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex); the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (barring employers from paying persons of one gender less than persons of the other where both work in substantially similar positions); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended (prohibiting discrimination against persons age 40 and older); the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities); and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (which includes provisions for monetary damages in cases of intentional discrimination and clarifies provisions regarding disparate impact actions). These protections apply regardless of the person’s immigration or citizenship status.
Our programs are administered through a central headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and district, area, and local offices located throughout the country. At present, EEOC maintains 25 district offices and 26 smaller area and local offices. Our field offices have jurisdiction in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix), American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Wake Island.
Potential charging parties may contact an EEOC field office in person, by telephone (either by calling the appropriate field office or by calling a toll-free 800 number that will connect them to the appropriate office), or by mail. Often, a person’s initial contact will be to obtain information about his/her employment rights, to learn about the time frames for filing charges, or to learn about the process generally.
If an individual wishes to file a charge, EEOC intake staff will provide the potential charging party with an intake questionnaire, which requests information concerning the nature of the alleged violation, the identity of the employer, and other pertinent facts. After the intake questionnaire is completed and reviewed, the potential charging party will meet or speak with a field office staff member to discuss, in depth, the allegations and the information presented by the individual in support of the allegation. Our intake staff counsel potential charging parties on the strength of the information presented and likelihood of success. Anyone who wishes to file a charge may do so.
If a charge is filed, we notify the respondent employer of the charge within ten days of the filing date. Further processing of the charge may involve an invitation to mediate, additional investigation, or dismissal, if the charge is deemed to be non-meritorious. Charges may be settled at any stage of processing if both parties agree to a negotiated settlement. If we determine that further investigation will not result in finding that a violation occurred, we will dismiss the charge and issue a notice of right to sue to the charging party. If we find reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred, we will attempt to resolve the issues through conciliation. If conciliation is unsuccessful, we may proceed to litigation, forward the case to the Department of Justice for review, or issue a notice of right to sue at that point, depending on the statutes involved, our local litigation priorities, and the nature of the violation.
EEOC not only must enforce Federal nondiscrimination law, but also must reach out to the employer and employee communities and provide them with the tools and information they need to comply with or understand their rights under the law. EEOC has a statutory mandate to educate the public and provide outreach and technical assistance to facilitate voluntary compliance with the laws the Commission enforces. Preventing employment discrimination is a preferred approach, and one that the EEOC would rather pursue than enforcing the statutes by investigating and litigating charges of employment discrimination.
At the Commission, outreach includes education and technical assistance through HQ and field office-sponsored events that serve various stakeholder groups, including those with LEP members and fee-based training programs conducted by our Revolving Fund program. In addition, the Commission produces written materials that describe, in lay terms, the laws that we enforce and the process for seeking assistance. These materials, as well as many others, are on the Commission’s web site.
As the foregoing background information indicates, the Commission is engaged in enforcement and outreach programs that support our efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace. LEP community access to each of these programs is essential to fulfillment of our mission. We recognize the importance of reaching out to all under served communities, of which the LEP community is a large part, and have made concerted outreach efforts to the various LEP communities served by our different field offices. We also recognize that we must do as much as possible, given our resource constraints, to ensure that the LEP community truly benefits from our programs and activities. This LEP Plan, in compliance with the Executive Order, sets forth the Commission’s activities for providing greater EEOC access to the LEP community.
In developing and revising the EEOC Plan, we have considered the four factors that the Department of Justice recommended in its original Executive Order LEP plan guidance, for assessing both the needs of the LEP community that we serve and the means that we have at our disposal for meeting those needs:
Factors 1 and 2 assess the extent of the need for services to an LEP community in a given area and whether this need is being met. In LEP Plan Element 1, we describe how our District Offices examine the demographics of their service areas and assess whether there are any distinct under served populations. EEOC District Offices also monitor the intake process to determine whether a representative cross-section of the community, such as members of various ethnic and national origin groups, is utilizing EEOC’s services.
Factor 2 focuses on frequency of LEP-person participation in our outreach programs and during the enforcement process. In our Plan Element 4, we describe various strategies that will expand our enforcement and outreach efforts to members of the LEP communities and ensure that language assistance is provided during the different stages of our process: intake, mediation, investigation, negotiated settlement, conciliation, and litigation.
Factor 3 examines the importance of the service provided by a program and requires an assessment of the possible impact of the service on an LEP individual. EEOC’s ability to provide service to an LEP individual or community may have a significant impact on the lives of the persons we serve. For an individual, the outcome might include rectifying discriminatory actions such as a discharge, failure to obtain a job, or denial of employment benefits. Long-term outcomes, for an individual or group, may include alleviating extended unemployment or persistent discrimination based on race or national origin.
Finally, factor 4 examines whether the program has the resources needed to extend its services to the LEP community. We note that the resources available to EEOC may be the most important consideration in the development and implementation of an LEP plan. As we have noted elsewhere, the Commission has limited resources. Accordingly, our LEP Plan reflects both what we are able to do within our resource limitations and what we would hope to do if we were to receive adequate funds.
Annually, each of our District Offices prepares a plan of operation that identifies the critical areas in which the office will focus its operations and resources for the coming year. During that process, staff review available demographic data to ascertain the major population groups and industries within the District’s geographic boundaries. In general, each District Office uses information sources, such as U.S. census data and census projections, EEO-1 information, State Departments of Labor, State Commissions on Minority Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, and internal EEOC publications, such as Job Patterns for Minorities and Women in the Private Sector, to identify different groups within the District. During the local plan development process, offices identify constituent groups that are racial or ethnic minorities within the geographic boundaries of the office. Most District Offices that conduct outreach to groups that include LEP members have recognized and identified language assistance needs in their operation plans.
Through the comparison of information such as demographic data, charge filing data, and feedback from stakeholder groups, the District Offices attempt to determine if members of various ethnic groups have been reached and are using EEOC enforcement services. Because we believe that group members may be under served by our process because of cultural or language barriers, the District Offices then approach under served groups for special outreach attention.
For some time, EEOC has recognized the need for greater oral and written communication with limited and non-English speaking persons located within the geographic boundaries of our field offices. We have initiated changes that have resulted in enhanced communication and sensitivity to LEP constituents. We further have taken steps to ensure an appropriate response to telephone calls and visits from LEP individuals; we have developed bilingual position descriptions, recruited bilingual applicants for new field positions, and encouraged celebrations of our cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity in headquarters and our field offices.
A survey of District Offices indicated that every District has a need for Spanish language assistance. Based on the survey and other feedback from HQ and various field offices, we also have identified Vietnamese, Korean, Haitian-Creole, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic as the other languages most frequently encountered on a nationwide basis. The type and extent of language assistance required varies considerably from field office to field office and are dictated by geographic location. For example, one Southwestern office has requests for language assistance in Spanish and Native American languages, whereas a Midwest office provides language assistance in Spanish and Arabic.
Over the past several years, different EEOC working groups have addressed the specific discrimination problems experienced by ethnic communities. These working groups have identified developing and maintaining the language skills of staff as critical to providing language assistance to LEP persons. In particular, each District Office identified the language needs within its jurisdiction and current bilingual staff resources to meet those needs. Whenever possible, the offices have focused their hiring efforts to address their language skill needs through the use of vacancy announcements for bilingual staff, making selections under the Outstanding Scholar program, and by distributing copies of the vacancy announcements to national origin advocacy groups.
Although almost no field vacancies have been filled during for several years because of budgetary constraints, many offices filled field positions in FY 1999 with bilingual applicants, including positions that do not have a bilingual position description. As of March 2003, of approximately 2100 field staff, the agency has 293 bilingual staff (14%) speaking the following languages: Spanish (203); Chinese (9), including Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Tieu-Chau; Tagalog (1); French (8); Korean (3); Italian (8); and other languages and dialects (32). These languages include: Bengali, Creole, German, Greek, Haitian, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Japanese, Malayalam, Polish, Portugese, Russian, Swedish, Tamil, Vietnamese, and Yiddish. Of the bilingual field staff, 20 are proficient in two languages other than English and 12 are fluent in three other languages. (A copy of the most current bilingual staffing report is attached as Appendix B.) Most offices currently have at least one bilingual staff member. Whenever possible, offices rotate staff assignments to ensure a bilingual staff member is always available in vital program areas, such as intake.
Each District Office also developed a listing of local Community-Based Organizations (CBO). The District lists have been merged into one nationwide CBO listing and distributed to each District Office. The listing includes the specific language skills available among each CBO’s staff and volunteers. (A copy of CBO resource listing is attached as Appendix C.) When our bilingual staff resources are insufficient to meet language assistance needs, field offices have been encouraged to assist LEP persons to secure volunteer interpretive services from advocacy groups. (Government regulations prevent us from asking an organization to donate their services directly to us.)
Budgetary constraints prevent EEOC from hiring certified translators in most cases. In a very few instances, other government agencies’ bilingual employees have been used for oral translations. Some field offices have reached informal agreements with other Federal agencies to assist each other with language-based needs. Because of our resource constraints, only a few offices have used commercial interpretive services. Because of the confidentiality of our mediation process, and the “firewall” between our mediation and investigative processes, our offices may secure paid translation services for mediation if a bilingual mediation staff person is not available to serve as an interpreter.
In order to provide additional language assistance and enhanced access to EEOC’s services, each District Office has developed a plan for providing language assistance to LEP persons and has designated a language assistance officer to execute the plan for the district and train staff on EEOC’s responsibilities under the Executive Order. The plans include, among other things, the provision of emergency language assistance for visitors to our offices and telephone callers, who do not speak English. In addition, the plans describe how the offices provide language assistance during outreach programs and throughout each stage of the enforcement process.
When a constituent self-identifies a need for language services, staff informs him/her of the availability of bilingual staff and language services in that office. If a bilingual staff member can meet the need, that person will conduct the intake interview or answer the constituent’s questions. Otherwise, the office will make arrangements for an interpreter from the office’s list of language assistance resources. Even in those limited instances where resources are available for paid interpreters, the person receiving the service is never charged a fee for language services provided by EEOC. Constituents also may use a family member, friend, or community organization representative as a translator if they request to do so. Brochures and other materials translated into the constituent’s language will be provided where available.
We have selected languages for translation of EEOC documents based on the language needs of our constituents as identified by our field offices and HQ staff through ongoing dialogue with stakeholders in field office communities. As noted above, the EEOC has translated documents describing the laws that EEOC enforces in the following languages: Spanish, Haitian/Creole, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Arabic, and Chinese. These and other translated documents are now available to the public through our Publications Distribution Center.2 The documents selected for translation are, for the most part, “vital documents” in that they provide critical information about the statutes EEOC enforces, charge filing requirements, and charge processing information to persons in need of EEOC’s services.3 Because of our very limited resources, we have been contracting for written translation, layout, proofreading, and printing services as funds become available.
During FY 2000, we collaborated with the Office of Special Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice (OSC) to distribute to our field staff translated materials pertaining to the Memorandum of Understanding between EEOC and OSC. With the assistance of OSC, we distributed Information Sheets in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese to our 50 field offices for use by charging parties.
Several of our field offices have developed their own locally-translated documents, and these materials have been shared with other field offices throughout the country. In other instances, field offices have developed and translated internal EEOC forms, principally into Spanish, such as intake questionnaires and intake letters, for use by limited or non-English speaking constituents. Resource constraints have prevented us, however, from producing and distributing most locally-developed materials on a broader basis.
The Commission occasionally receives correspondence written in a language other than English. Field offices use bilingual staff, if available, to contact the letter writer, by telephone if a number is given in the letter or by written reply in the writer’s language. If no bilingual staff is available, other arrangements are made, generally through assistance from a CBO. If the letter is sent to headquarters, it will be forwarded to the appropriate field office for response.
Over the years, EEOC has issued guidance and instructions for providing language assistance throughout our outreach, intake, and charge processing procedures. These instructions are referenced in the following policy manuals and written guidance documents:
Section 2.4 (k), Assistance of Interpreters, states in part, “Field offices should make every effort to accommodate parties needing the assistance of an interpreter. . . . Each field office should identify those sizeable populations within its jurisdiction which speak English as a second language. When the field office does not have the staff available to translate the first language, make arrangements when necessary, by enlisting the services of volunteer Federal workers or by contacting fraternal organizations, social clubs, or others.”
Section14.10 (a) (3), Conducting a Fact Finding Conference - Preliminaries, states in part, “Review the conference process, covering as needed: . . . (3) An interpreter for a party (sign language or a non-English language) will interpret what is being said by each person at the conference.”
Section 23.6 (b), Privacy of the Interview, states in part, “An interpreter may be used if safeguards are taken to ensure the competence of the interpreter and protect the witness’ privacy. Use EEOC employees as interpreters whenever possible.”
The written policies and procedures listed above have been widely distributed to the field staff. Each professional staff member (intake officers, investigators, mediators, attorneys, etc.) in the field has been given a copy of the Compliance Manual. Field offices conduct training as needed on various sections of the Compliance Manual. The Office of Legal Counsel guidance memoranda and other instructional materials were issued to each District Director, who is responsible for distribution to staff in each local and area office within the District. In some offices, bilingual EEOC staff has provided informal training to office staff to enable them to conduct very basic bilingual communications for outreach and intake. However, our limited budgets have precluded the availability of training funds to provide EEOC staff with bilingual skills.
Each District Office’s designated language assistance officer has engaged in staff training on the responsibilities of the agency under Executive Order 13166 and how the district will assist LEP persons. The training includes providing emergency language assistance to LEP telephone callers and visitors, as well as providing language assistance throughout the outreach and enforcement processes to LEP charging parties, witnesses and respondents.
Staffs from several field offices have participated in information-sharing with diverse cultural groups to understand better the cultural customs or traits that might impact an employment situation or decision or could cause misunderstandings between employer/employee or charging party/EEOC staff person. In addition, the District Offices’ designated language assistance officers continue to provide cultural competency training to office staff.
In recent years, we have intensified our outreach efforts to locate and educate under served populations that may not be aware of EEOC’s services or hesitate to contact us because of language or cultural barriers. Agency goals include expanding outreach efforts to under served communities and increasing the availability and access to EEOC’s publications, including through translations of informational materials.
EEOC’s National Origin Task Force identified categories of organizations that work with national origin constituencies: advocacy organizations; faith-based communities; migrant worker and other employment related groups; and other federal agencies. The eight Task Force offices strengthened their alliances with organizations in each of these categories to focus more effectively their outreach efforts to national origin and LEP constituents.
Each District Office has identified ethnic and racial communities within its jurisdiction and has developed a listing of CBOs that work with members of those communities. Staff from our field offices has reached out and established working relationships with members of the CBOs in their geographic jurisdictions. They conduct a variety of outreach activities in conjunction with the CBOs that are designed to educate, share information, and develop working relationships. These contacts are frequent and regular, and many are conducted by our bilingual staff members.
Field offices continue to participate in roundtable discussions, distribute literature at festivals and job fairs, and use CBOs’ office space for EEOC intake activities. Several years ago, one of our West Coast offices produced a series of public service announcements in English, Tagalog, Korean, and Spanish, which were run extensively in that district. The Houston office, in a cooperative venture with the Department of Labor and several foreign consulates, prepared video materials in Spanish that play in foreign consulate offices and in Catholic church facilities that service the Spanish-language community. This venture also included placement contact information in Spanish on highway billboards for persons seeking assistance with workplace disputes. The office currently is preparing a new video that will present EEO-related information through use of “real-life” scenarios acted out by members of the Houston office staff and an Asian-American advocacy group and will include separate Chinese and Vietnamese voice-over narration. Other offices are replicating these efforts, within available resources.
In several districts, bilingual staff members have appeared on Spanish language radio and television shows to discuss the work of EEOC and answer questions from the community. In addition, some offices have established EEOC advisory councils composed of CBO representatives, which meet on a regular basis, provide input to EEOC, and act as a conduit to LEP persons. Some advisory councils also include employer representatives as well, in order to promote understanding of LEP/national origin concerns and needs in the business community. Many of our offices produce stakeholder newsletters that highlight legal developments and EEOC activity within the District.
The EEOC web site is designed to be fully accessible to persons using any web browser and any adaptive equipment. The site contains information for employers on their legal responsibilities and for constituents seeking assistance with regard to private sector and public sector employment discrimination problems. The web site has a mechanism for feedback from site visitors, although it is not possible at present to file a charge through the web site. As noted above, we are hopeful of adding translated materials to the web site in both PDF and accessible formats as they become ready for publication on the web.
Each field office and EEOC HQ monitor outreach and other enforcement activities designed to reach under served communities in which LEP persons will be found. Field offices provide quarterly reports to headquarters, which describe their progress on meeting their outreach and enforcement objectives. This information is reviewed and evaluated by the Office of Field Programs in EEOC HQ. We continually examine the monitoring systems used to ensure that we receive the information necessary to assess the outreach portion of our LEP plan and determine if LEP persons are accessing our enforcement process.
For several years, EEOC field offices have distributed Customer Service brochures to persons utilizing our services, both charging parties and respondents. The brochures are returned to HQ for review by the Office of Research, Information and Planning (ORIP). ORIP staff then forwards the written comments to the appropriate field office and HQ staff in Field Management Programs (FMP). ORIP also compiles a biannual list of comments received from every district and distributes the report to FMP staff. This report includes comments regarding the provision of language assistance services in the field.
Other written comments and complaints received in HQ regarding the provision of language assistance services are reviewed by OFP staff and referred to the appropriate field office. Field office directors are responsible for assessing complaints; resolving them, if possible; and responding to the complaining party. If the complaint cannot be resolved satisfactorily by the office initially receiving the complaint, it will be forwarded to a higher level, including headquarters. Oral complaints received by telephone in HQ are handled in the same manner as written complaints, i.e., referred to the field office director for resolution. Oral complaints received directly by a field office are resolved by the office Director, if a satisfactory resolution is not reached at a lower level.
1 One document, “Employment Rights of Immigrants under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws,” also is available in French, Hindi, and Urdu; and another document, “Employment Discrimination Based on Religion, Ethnicity, or Country of Origin,” is available in Farsi, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu.