Hello colleagues who frequently practice at the Maine Human Rights Commission!
I hope you and yours are warm, healthy and safe as the new year gets going.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the Commission continues to operate mostly remotely; state employees have not been generally ordered to return to on-site work stations, and the MHRC continues not to allow public meetings, conferences, or interviews at our Augusta offices. Thank goodness for technology! The Commission does have staff members in the office daily to keep us operating, people you may see if you come by the office and ring our doorbell to hand-deliver something (we will roll up our curtain to say hi). Please do know, though, that we check our drop box outside the office regularly throughout the day so you can always put filings there! We've tried to improve our phone system's auto-attendant and website usability, too.
The Commission is such a small agency that having folks on leave or positions vacant can have an outsized impact on our functioning. At the moment, we are more short-staffed than anytime in the past 10 years (only one out of the four staffers who typically handles case processing is available to work), and this status may last for weeks or months. Some of you may already know about missing staffers if you've tried emailing one person and gotten an auto-response to try another, only to get an auto-response from that second person sending you to yet a third person! We know how confusing/frustrating this can be, and we're so sorry. Everyone at the MHRC is pitching in to get the work done, but it is unavoidable that there will be delays in our ability to answer questions, respond to emails, process requests for right-to-sue letters/withdrawals, acknowledge filings, send reports, address requests, provide copies, pay bills, etc. All of us at the MHRC truly appreciate your understanding that our agency's resources are limited, and that each of us is doing the best that they can.
As an aside, sometimes when I send updates about resources, folks write me back and ask how they can help the Commission get additional resources. We can always use support about that via testimony during the Legislature's Biennial Budget or Supplemental Budget processes (keep an eye on the Legislature's website about that), and we will also be discussing resources at a Judiciary Committee hearing later this month to review the Commission's 11/1/2021 Government Evaluation Act report.
I know many of you are encountering your own staffing and resource challenges, so if you are having an issue please contact your assigned investigator (or me if your case is not assigned to an investigator yet) before a pending deadline; we try to be understanding too. If you have questions, please email me. Also, please feel free to forward this as needed, and apologies if you got this twice or this misses people who've switched firms or retired since I last updated the recipient list.
Happy new year, and thanks in advance for your patience and grace!
Amy M. Sneirson
Maine Human Rights Commission