A year ago this month. Judy Harris complained to the Fairfax County agency that is supposed to investigate job discrimination that she was fired from the National Wildlife Federation for resisting her boss's sexual advances.
Now the county's Human Rights Commission is telling Harris that she will have to wait four more month before a public hearing on her complaint can be held.
"It is really frustrating," Harris said yesterday. "I feel like I'm up against a brick wall."
The Harris case delay is one of many porblem facing an embattled agency that is severely understaffed, faces a financila crisis because of a bureaucratic mix-up with the federal government and has had its enforcement powers joepardized by a recent court ruling.
The Fairfax Human Rights Commission has a backlog of nearly 100 formal compaints of job discrimination and nearly 500 informal complaints. It takes at least four months for the commission to begin its initial investigation after a complaint is filed, according to commission director Patricia Horton.
In Prince George's and Montgomery counties similar complaints are examined within 10 days to three weeks, according to the agency directors there.
Horton said that Fairfax women who complain about discrimination because of pregnancy are unlikely to get help. "By the time we get to looking at hose cases, the woman have had their babies," Horton said.
The 4-year-old HRC was a staff of four, a director, two investigators and a secretary.
In a county the size of Fairfax that level of staffing is "impossible," according to Alan P. Dean, executive secretary of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, which has a staff of 15.
"Unless the (Fairfax) commission can somehow keep its existence a secret," said William A. Welch Sr., executive director of Prince George's 24person Human Relations Commission, "it is going to develop a serious backlog that will be difficutl to handle even if more people are hired."
Realizing the serious staff shortage, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in October approved a request for $130,000 from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Horton said she has been waiting since October for federal approval of the grant request, which would enable her to hire six more people.
The county request for $130,000 arrived at EEOC offices six weeks after a deadline for the funds, said Ann Jeffreys, acting director of EEOC's state and local division. "I have little sympathy for an agency that misses a deadline by six weeks," said Jeffreys.
Told by a reporter that her request for federal money would not be considered for another year, Horton said, "Are you kidding?" Horton sais she has been told by EEOC that her request for funds was made on time.
Besides its staff and money problems, a Fairfax Circuity Court ruling by Judge William G. Plummer jeopardizes the agency's existence. The judge questioned HRC's authority to force employers to compensate employes they discriminate against.
The judge ruled that an Alexandria restaurateur did not have to pay damages to an employe whom the agency had ruled was a victim of discrminination.
Horton said the ruling has forced the commission to reexamine its authority. It plans to release a statement next week enumerating its powers as affected by the court ruling.
In the meantime, complainants, such as Judy Harris, say they have no choice but to wait for the commission to resolve its problems.