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Board resolution seeks EEOC hearings

Be it resolved that the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section of the Wisconsin Bar requests that the Board of Governors:

1) Communicate with EEOC officials and members of the Wisconsin Congres-sional delegation urging that prior to any restructuring there be nationwide public hearings on the impact of the re-structuring proposal on civil rights enforcement; and,

2) Urge members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation not to appropriate any Fiscal Year 2004 funds for the restructuring of the EEOC without public and Congressional hearings.

The State Bar Board of Governors passed a resolution last week calling for public hearings before any of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 51 local offices are closed.

Milwaukee employment lawyer Barbara Zack Quindel, of Perry, Shapiro, Quindel, Saks, Charlton & Lerner S.C., explained to the policy-making body of the state’s nearly 21,000 lawyers that a February 2003 report from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) recommended closing 41 EEOC local offices, to be replaced by a single nationwide call center.

Quindel told the Wisconsin Law Journal that the Milwaukee EEOC office, which investigates complaints and enforces violations of federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, national origin or religion, is one of the agency’s busiest offices, ranking 14th for the volume of charges it annually handles. Still, it is considered a prime target to be shut down because of its proximity to Chicago and its lease is coming up for renewal soon.

Closing the office would diminish the accessibility of the agency and will have “an enormous impact upon enforcement,” she said. Moreover, it’s not just employees’ lawyers, like Quindel, who are concerned; management attorneys are equally concerned because they too find it easier to work with EEOC staff they know at a local level, and they also don’t want to lose the strong mediation program available at the Milwaukee office.

The NAPA report called for public input before any restructuring should occur. Nonetheless, a $5.8 million allocation for EEOC restructuring was part of President George W. Bush’s recent supplemental war appropriation. It was stricken from the bill. Now, however, the proposal is part of the budget bill that Congress is currently debating.

Quindel told the governors that the State Bar’s Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section Board passed a resolution a day earlier, asking the Board of Governors to communicate with EEOC officials and the Wisconsin Congressional delegation to push for nationwide public and congressional hearings before any EEOC restructuring is authorized. She characterized the resolution as “a very basic demand.”

Gov. Christopher J. Stawski, of Milwaukee’s Urban, Taylor & Stawski Ltd., moved to pass a similar resolution, pointing out that it “seeks dialogue only.”

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Gov. Michelle A. Behnke, the incoming State Bar president-elect, told the group that she was part of a recent State Bar delegation that met with Wisconsin’s lawmakers in Washington, D.C. None of the lawmakers knew anything about the NAPA proposal.

Also on that trip was State Bar President Patricia K. Ballman, of the Milwaukee branch of Quarles & Brady LLP, who said that she and other bar leaders had promised to pass on to the lawmakers more information about the restructuring proposal once they had it.

The only Board of Governors member to express hesitation was the bar’s treasurer, Dean R. Dietrich of Ruder, Ware & Michler LLSC. He said that the proposal might be of limited importance to out-state attorneys, observing that, “For someone like me in Wausau, it makes no difference whether I call Milwaukee or Cleveland, Ohio.” He further noted that perhaps the issue should be sent to the bar’s Executive Committee first.

But the bar’s president-elect, R. George Burnett, of Liebman, Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry S.C. in Green Bay, shored up support for the resolution by pointing out, “It [the resolution] is not a motion to oppose the closing of the offices; it’s just a motion for deliberation, and I’m all in favor of that. It’s not only appropriate, but the responsible thing for us to do.”

The governors passed the resolution unanimously.

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