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Partisan Divide Doesn’t Stop EEOC

By Aliah D. Wright  3/14/2013
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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated that the EEOC lacked enough members to make a quorum. This error has been corrected below.

There are four commissioners on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), two Republicans and two Democrats.

But that hasn’t stopped the present commission from being productive, said EEOC Commissioners Chai Feldblum, a Democrat, and Victoria Lipnic, a Republican, during their joint keynote address on March 12 at the 2013 SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference, which more than 600 HR professionals attended.

According to its website, the EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it a crime to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on national origin, race, disability, religion, color, sex (including pregnancy), age (40 or older) or genetic information.

Much of what the commission has done recently is to get organized. For example, Feldblum said, the commissioners worked on strengthening the group’s strategic plan, working on four elements:

*Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring.

*Protecting immigrant and migrant workers.

*Enforcing equal pay laws.

*Ironing out emerging and developing issues where case law is beginning to change. Those include issues pertaining to lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgender individuals, who can now bring claims under Title 7; making sure accommodations are made for pregnant women who develop medical conditions that arise from pregnancy; and concerns related to the expanded Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Both Feldblum and Lipnic were nominated by President Barack Obama. According to the EEOC’s website, Feldblum’s term will end July 1, 2013. Before being appointed to the EEOC, Feldblum was a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. Lipnic, whose term ends July 1, 2015, was an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in its Washington, D.C., office.

Feldblum and Lipnic interviewed each other during their address and took questions from the audience. One query opened a hotly debated topic: leave as a reasonable accommodation. While the EEOC is charged with enforcing laws, “It is Congress, from my perspective,” Feldblum said, “that needs to make those laws coherent.”

That said, “It’s very hard to run a leave system through individualized assessment,” Feldblum said, an assessment that often means defining “essential job function.”

“I’m sure we could come to an agreement right now if we could just agree that showing up to work and attendance is an essential function of the job,” Lipnic said to rousing applause.

Aliah D. Wright is a manager/online editor for SHRM Online.

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