It is ironic that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a reliable foe of worker rights, is responsible for finally getting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) up and running again after five-months of downtime.
The EEOC is the agency charged by the U.S. Congress with enforcing our nation’s civil rights law. It has become increasingly important to workers, as unions decline and technology and globalism transform the American workplace. However, the EEOC was rendered ineffectual on January 3, 2019 when President Donald J. Trump declined to reappoint commissioner Chai Feldblum. The five-member commission then had just two members and could not assemble a quorum..
One might think the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would celebrate the fact that the EEOC could not adopt new regulations to enforce worker rights. However, the Chamber spearheaded a letter from several industry groups to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last month urging him to “use all means at your disposal” to get the commission back on track.
That did it!
On May 8, the U.S. Senate voted 50-44 to appoint Trump nominee Janet R. Dhillon, a Republican corporate lawyer from Pennsylvania, to be the 16th chair of the EEOC.
Trump nominated Dhillon in 2017 but her nomination had languished for almost two years. So why was it suddenly approved?
The Chamber opposes an Obama-era plan to encourage equal pay for women that requires employers with 100 or more employers to provide the EEOC with pay information broken down by job category, sex, race and ethnicity. Trump’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) halted implementation of the plan in 2017, prompting a lawsuit by the National Women’s Law Center and the Labor Counsel for Latin American Advancement. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia revived the plan last month, calling OMB’s stay of its implementation illegal, arbitrary and capricious.
Employers must turn over 2017 and 2018 pay data to the EEOC by Sept. 30.
In the letter to McConnell, the Chamber states: “The inability of the Agency to act on this matter now threatens to impose millions of dollars in regulatory compliance costs on employers.”
It appears the Chamber expects Dhillon to do what the federal court would not and stay or diminish the reporting requirement. With Dhillon’s appointment, there is now a Republican majority on the EEOC.
Watch Dog or Lap Dog?
Dhillon has always represented employers, not workers. Will she be a vigilant watchdog on behalf of aggrieved workers or a lap dog in the service of big business?
In recent years, the EEOC has shifted away from the prosecution of discriminatory employers to a more business friendly agenda of educational activities and free alternative dispute resolution services. It is likely that Dhillon will accelerate that shift.
Two of the five seats on the commission remain vacant.
The other commission members are Republican Victoria A. Lipnic, who served as acting commissioner and whose term expires in 2020, and Democrat Charlotte Burrows, an African American whose term expires on July 1. Dhillon’s five-year appointment ends July 1, 2022.