Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Measuring Success in Fighting Discrimination

I was reading the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Annual Report 2007-2008 (.pdf) tonight and it had plenty of facts and figures. At the risk of oversimplification, the PHRC is pretty much the Pennsylvania state equivalent of the Federal EEOC.



The report included a statement from Homer C. Floyd, Executive Director, in which he explains the need for the PHRC and details some of its accomplishments. Take note of his focus in describing the PHRC's success:
"Our successes this year include processing and closing 4,339 cases, providing 7,895,543 Pennsylvanians with $10,384,666 in lost wages, damages and other compensation for illegal discrimination. Our average case settlement rate of 36 percent exceeded the federal rate of 19.5 percent and the national average for peer agencies of 21.6 percent for the federal fiscal year."
It's interesting to see how an agency tasked with fighting discrimination measures its own success.


Measuring success in combating discrimination is a daunting task, however, and metrics can be flawed. For example, is a high number of cases processed a success? It does demonstrate a certain amount of work completed. But if we're trying to end illegal discrimination, wouldn't it be great if a really low number of claims were filed (and therefore a low number processed... ignoring any backlog)?


The agency also states that almost 8 million individuals recovered over $10 million in lost wages, damages, and other compensation. Again, this measures workload and provides some indication of the number of people helped by the PHRC. It relies, however, on counting only those matters in which an individual recovers. If, for example, the PHRC investigated a claim and found that the employer had a legitimate explanation for its actions, wouldn't that also demonstrate the PHRC's value as an investigatory agency? Yet that would seemingly not register at all.


Finally, the agency cites its above average case settlement rate. That sounds like an appealing statistic as it indicates satisfaction on both sides of the dispute.


Perhaps in future posts I'll discuss what I think agencies should be measuring or examine what other agencies are measuring. For now, I just wanted to make a note of the numbers used in my home state of PA and raise some of the difficulties in measuring success. I appreciate the PHRC providing an annual report filled with statistics. Hopefully other states provide similar reports to generate some ideas on measuring success.


Other Point of Interest
The report opened with an advocacy statement from Chairperson Stephen A. Glassman that "The time is long overdue to include 'sexual orientation and gender identity or expression' in our state nondiscrimination statutes." This appears to be happening at the federal level with ENDA and is already happening in parts of Pennsylvania with a few local ordinances.