Agency that investigates job discrimination under scrutiny

In this March 2, 2015 photo, House of Representatives Majority Leader James A. Dunnigan R-Taylorsville, right, huddles with Majority Assistant Whip, Brad R. Wilson R-Kaysville in Salt Lake City. Dunnigan said his goal is to improve processes at the UALD and that doing so would produce more outcomes favoring employees. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

In this Feb. 1, 2017 photo, Lincoln Hobbs speaks at a meeting of Salt Lake Indivisible, a grass-roots bipartisan group organizing against President Donald Trump at Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. Attorneys such as Hobbs do not send their client’s cases to the UALD. Instead, he refers cases to a federal agency. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

In this June 22, 2017 photo, defense attorney April Hollingsworth talks with members of the media. In Utah, the agency that investigates job discrimination is so mistrusted that some lawyers go to the feds instead. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

This Dec. 5, 2017 photo shows David Jensen, employment discrimination unit manager for the State of Utah Anti-discrimination and Labor Division, in the Labor Division offices in Salt Lake City. Jensen said lawyers who refuse to send it cases are making unfair characterizations about the agency. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah agency that investigates employer discrimination is under scrutiny after a state audit found it rules in favor of employees less than 1 percent of the time.

The Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division sides with employees less than comparable agencies in surrounding states and at the federal level, according to the legislative audit released earlier this year.

The audit described the division’s investigations as inadequate, saying its investigators lacked proper training, The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this month. It also said investigators didn’t have the resources to obtain necessary evidence for cases.

“I tell my clients, ‘It doesn’t matter what you say. They will take the employer’s position,’” said April Hollingsworth, an attorney who often represents workers.

Attorney Lincoln Hobbs said he tries to avoid going through the state agency at all. Instead, he sends his cases to the federal counterpart.

“It’s probably a matter of understaffing or too many cases, but cases tend to not be processed in a timely manner there,” Hobbs said.

Over five fiscal years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in favor of employees 3.6 percent of the time. Agencies in surrounding states sided with employees between 3 percent and 8 percent of the time during the same period, according to Utah auditors.

Lawyers who refuse to send cases to the state are unfairly characterizing the agency, said David Jensen, the division’s case manager. He said investigators always talk to employees first before gathering evidence and getting the employer’s side.

The division awarded employees in discrimination cases $1 million during the last fiscal year, according to the agency’s annual report.

Even with mistrust from attorneys, the number of complaints going through the agency is rising. It received 605 inquiries last month, up from 228 in November 2016.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune,