For my summer internship with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I worked in the Federal Hearings Unit. Chief Supervisory Administrative Judge Charetta Harrington is the head of the unit and supervised the interns.
During the first week, as part of our training, we were given an overview of the laws that we would be encountering in our day to day activities. The administrative judges helped us gain a basic familiarity with anti-discrimination laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act.
The EEOC Federal Hearings Unit provides an administrative process for federal employees to bring a claim of discrimination against the Agency that employs them or failed to hire them (took adverse action). Each Agency must provide an investigative process when an employee brings a valid claim. The results of that investigation are submitted to the Hearings Unit and eventually culminate in a hearing, which serves as an informal trial adjudicated by one of the Administrative Judges. Often a claim will never reach a hearing, because many cases are settled or decided after an agency files a motion for summary judgment.
Our primary responsibility as interns was to evaluate agency motions for summary judgment and then write a draft of the summary judgment opinion, if appropriate. We would thoroughly read the investigative files, the agency motion, and the response of the complainant, if there was one. It was our job to evaluate the evidence in the file and determine if the case could be decided without a hearing. If so, we would write a full opinion which was then submitted to the administrative judge in charge of the case and they would edit the opinion and then issue it.
Most of the cases we dealt with were from the Postal Service and the Veteran’s Administration. There were a handful of other cases from other agencies. I had the opportunity to sit in on a hearing regarding a claim made by a NASA employee. The hearing was held onsite at NASA. NASA was represented by its general counsel and the employee was represented by an attorney. However, often employees do not have the money for an attorney and either represent themselves, or have a friend or union representative helping them at the hearing. The hearing lasted three days and the administrative judge issued a written decision a few weeks after the parties submitted written closing statements. The hearing was much more informal than a trial would be and the administrative judge has quite a bit of discretion to conduct the hearing in a way that will help resolve the conflict.
As interns we frequently had the opportunity to sit in on settlement conferences as well. For the sake of efficiency and resolving cases as quickly as possible, the Federal Hearings Unit makes every effort to help parties reach a settlement. Frequently they succeeded in doing so, although many times parties could not work out their differences. Most of the time, settlement conferences were conducted over the phone on a conference call, but sometimes the parties met in person at the EEOC offices in downtown Cleveland. The EEOC utilizes interest-based negotiating, as described in the book “Getting to Yes.”
We were also able to observe mediations, which take place earlier in the process, before a full-blown investigation has even taken place. The EEOC has a unit dedicated to these mediations and they save significant amounts of time and money by resolving issues early in the process, before significant resources have been spent on investigation and litigation.
I also had the privilege of going along on an onsite investigation with one of the private sector investigators. We visited a local company that was facing a charge of discrimination from one of its employees. We interviewed several individuals who were familiar with the situation, examined the employee personnel files, and spoke with a lawyer representing the company.
Overall, the experience at the EEOC was very positive. The employees were very welcoming, supportive, and helpful. The administrative judges were very approachable and always willing to answer questions or provide guidance.
Near the end of our experience, we were invited to attend the annual office picnic. Again, everyone was very friendly and welcoming and made us feel very much a part of the office.
I would certainly recommend the EEOC internship to others. I gained a great deal of practical experience researching and writing, made excellent connections from a career standpoint, and had a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Although it is not a paid position, the interns had the opportunity to network with many attorneys across several government agencies, which is of great value. EEOC also provided us with vouchers for the RTA to help defray transportation costs, which definitely made a difference for me.