The top lawyer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reassigned nine of his senior attorneys with two days' notice last week--a move the general counsel calls a reorganization but some of those affected view as an attempted political housecleaning.
General Counsel Michael J. Connolly, a former General Motors lawyer who oversees more than 200 EEOC attorneys at headquarters and 22 regional offices, said yesterday that he had been considering several personnel changes and thought it was better to make them "in one fell swoop so people aren't malingering in the halls being lame ducks."
He denied that the reassignments, which called for several regional office attorneys to move across the country, were an attempt to get rid of people. "That was not the intent," he said. Everyone has accepted the reassignment, he noted.
Some of the transferred attorneys said they were given no justification for the change when a Connolly assistant called last Wednesday and told them to be at their new station by Monday. "There are lots of hungry Republicans out there, and since they can't create any new jobs, maybe they decided to shake the tree and see if any of us fell out," one said.
Another said: "It's fairly clear that the commission is being politicized at the top career level."
The general counsel got in a dispute with some of his attorneys earlier this year when they reported he had told them he was changing EEOC policies in several areas, after reminding them "there was an election in November 1980 and things are going to change around here."
Connolly said that there was a misunderstanding then about what he was describing as personal philosophy, rather than policy changes.
The new personnel changes included moving the Dallas attorney to Denver, the Denver attorney to Detroit, the Detroit attorney to Dallas and the New York attorney to New Orleans.
Connolly said he didn't know how much the sudden moves would cost the government, but he insisted they would be "cost-effective because I'm putting tigers in each new office."
He said he reassigned Robert M. Jones from Dallas to Denver because he is "comatose" in a hospital in Denver where his family lives. "To me it's a humanitarian move. I'm not going to take someone off the payroll in a situation like that."
The 33-year-old Connolly said the new New York regional lawyer, William Lee, was recommended by Sen. Alphonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.). Lee is strong on administrative skills, Connolly said, although he has no civil rights experience.
He said that only James Finney, an associate general counsel at headquarters who is being detailed to Chicago as regional director, has expressed displeasure with the new assignment. He also denied that any of the transfers had racial overtones, although most of those moved were black.
He noted that the moves left a woman, a Hispanic and two blacks in senior positions in Washington and added, as he told Legal Times, "There's not a shanty Irishman in the bunch."
Connolly said that the Carter administration made similar reassignments without any resulting clamor. "No one raises eyebrows when the Democrats do it," he said.
The EEOC, which has about 3,400 employes, gets about 70,000 complaints of employment discrimination each year; tens of thousands of them are pending.