In a city where there are more lawyers per capita than just about anyplace on the planet, adding seven attorneys to an L.A. office may not seem like much.

But for the local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the federal agency that handles employment discrimination claims it represents the largest staffing-up in years.

After beginning the year with a record-low three trial lawyers and going two years without a full-time regional attorney, the local EEOC office finally got the green light from Washington to hire a new regional head and six additional trial attorneys.

"We lost a lot of the attorneys employed here some transferred to other agencies. Now we're getting the staffing we should have had," said Santos Albarran, program analyst at the local EEOC office.

As a result, the L.A. office expects to file at least eight lawsuits this year, double last year's number, Albarran said. It has already filed five suits so far this year, with four of those being against L.A. companies.

Having more trial attorneys is key to filing more lawsuits because they help investigators determine which cases can be successfully litigated. "More litigation is expected out of this office because we have more attorneys handling the cases, working with investigators as a team," he said.

While that means additional heat on employers who violate anti-discrimination laws, more EEOC staff attorneys might also benefit some employers, said Tracey Kennedy, a partner in the labor and employment department of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles.

"It could help in trying to resolve these cases, because if a lawyer on staff can understand better than the investigators the litigation process, that could help on both sides," she said.

The Los Angeles hiring began in January with Anna Park being brought in as the office's new regional attorney, replacing Pamela Thomason who left in 1999.

Previously, Park handled class-action cases at Litt & Associates, one of the law firms currently involved in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department over inmates being given excessive jail time.

Other hires

Besides the seven new attorneys, the local EEOC office, which handles between 3,000 and 5,000 complaints a year, brought in about six more investigators, each of whom often handle 40 to 50 cases at a time. L.A. handles a broader array of cases than most other EEOC offices.

Today the office's total workforce, including administrative staff, numbers about 100, with 35 or so of those being investigators. It has one trial attorney in a satellite office in San Diego.

The office's jurisdiction encompasses all of Southern California from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border and the entire state of Nevada. That makes it one of the nation's largest offices in terms of geographic coverage, said Park.

The additional personnel are made possible by an agency-wide budget boost for fiscal year 2000 its biggest budget increase in a decade, said Susan Oxford, attorney adviser for the EEOC in Washington.

Prior to this year's expansion, the L.A. office had been kept at an "optimum level for a small office," meaning a regional attorney and five or six staff attorneys, said Reginald Welch, spokesman for the EEOC in Washington.

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