The Wrong Question (Update)

"The silence and denials make it worse."


Boise Weekly had a number of questions. The Idaho Department of Labor had few answers.

"The department has no comment on the matter," wrote a spokesman for IDOL, when BW asked department Director Kenneth Edmunds to comment on our investigation (BW, Feature, "The Wrong Question," Nov. 26, 2014), revealing how Edmunds was the target of a discrimination claim filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The department did confirm that a complaint had been filed with the EEOC.

BW detailed how Don Dew was a candidate to become the new administrator for the Idaho Human Rights Commission. Following a series of phone and video interviews, the IHRC flew Dew to Boise to talk further, including conversations regarding salary and a possible start date. When Dew went face-to-face with Edmunds, whose Labor Department oversees IHRC, things got very uncomfortable. When Dew told Edmunds that several years ago an infection triggered seizures that required medication—but that he hadn't experienced any such seizures in more than three years—Dew said Edmunds looked at him as if "he was smelling a dirty diaper."

"Can you even work a 40-hour week?" Dew recalled Edmunds saying, expressing doubt over Dew's ability to perform the tasks.

"I was stunned," Dew told BW.

He has since filed an EEOC claim, alleging discrimination based on disability—but when Dew filed the claim with the EEOC field office in Seattle, it was promptly shifted to another field office in Los Angeles.

"That would not surprise me," said Justine Lesser, spokeswoman in EEOC's Washington, D.C., headquarters. "It would strike me as prudent for an office that has a work-share agreement with a so-called FEPA [fair employment practices agency] to transfer that claim to another part of the EEOC, where the people are unknown to them and, therefore, would have no misunderstanding as to whom is on whose side."

Indeed, IHRC is a FEPA and has a work-share agreement with EEOC's Seattle office; so in a precedent-setting move where the actual FEPA and its overseeing body—the Idaho Labor Department—are the subjects of the claim, EEOC is in a position of trying to show no bias by shifting the probe outside the region.

As to how long that probe might take, Lesser gave a standard answer: "It depends."

"It sounds like I'm ducking the question, but I'm not," she said. "It depends on how forthcoming the employer is; it depends on whether the charge is appropriate for mediation. There are so many factors why an investigation has to take a certain amount of time."

The process now requires Edmunds to submit a formal statement of position to the claim. He must also respond to any requests for information and permit an on-site visit for the investigation, which would include witness interviews.

"I think this can be mediated," Dew told BW after our investigation was published. "But the silence and denials make it worse."