Audit: Minnesota Department of Human Rights case investigations take too long, creating large backlog

A new state audit says the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is taking too long to investigate cases, leading to a large backlog of cases for investigators.

The report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found most cases took more than a year for investigators to complete, making it "more difficult to conduct effective investigations."

One problem, auditors found, is case intake. According to the report, the Department of Human Rights would often accept cases that didn't meet the minimum criteria to launch an investigation. As a result, investigators end up looking into cases that go nowhere and have less time to work on more noteworthy investigations.

Speaking with investigators, auditors said they took a lax approach to screening complaints. Auditors also found staff would fail to fact check the complaints, meaning sometimes complainants would "misremember" key details about the case and that the department would end up taking a case they otherwise would not accept.

As for the actual investigation into human rights cases, auditors found there are very few standards for an investigation. According to the report, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has not "established policies regarding whether investigators should interview responding parties or witnesses, or how long investigators should give parties to respond to department requests for additional information."

When investigators did speak with individuals, in 13 percent of cases they reviewed, auditors were unable to find notes about the interview.

At the end of the day, auditors found that 95 percent of cases in 2016 investigated by the Department of Human Rights were determined to have "no probable cause."

Among recommended changes in the report, auditors are calling for the Department of Human Rights to apply stricter standards to accepting cases while setting standards for investigators looking into cases.