The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been busy. In the last week alone, the Commission recovered $40,000 for a veteran who was fired for having pregnancy-related health issues, $260,000 for four women who were sexually harassed in their bank teller jobs, and $1.3 million in a class action suit against a restaurant that believed black workers belonged in the back of the house. In addition, the Commission continues to issue guidance to employers and investigate the tens of thousands of workplace discrimination complaints reported to the Commission each year—all under sequestration, which continues to strain agency resources.
Despite the EEOC’s successes, Congressmen Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), and John Kline (R-Minn.) have introduced three bills (H.R. 4959, 5422, and 5423) that destroy the Commission’s ability to root out workplace discrimination. In sum, these bills:
- Erect bureaucratic roadblocks before the Commission can sue employers in court;
- Micromanage how the EEOC handles litigation and settlements—including requiring the EEOC to reveal confidential or privileged information to the employers the agency sues; and
- Allow potentially discriminatory state and local law to trump federal protections the EEOC seeks to enforce.
It’s almost as if some House members think the EEOC is too good at its job.
One of the bills (H.R. 5423) is targeted towards the EEOC’s crackdown on race-based criminal background checks. At a House hearing on the three bills, U.S. Rep. Walberg claimed H.R. 5423 merely clarifies that background checks required by state or local law take precedence over EEOC guidance. Yet, the law is written so broadly that it applies even to intentionally discriminatory state and local law. As Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) put it, H.R. 5423 “empowers states to override the national commitment that we made 50 years ago” when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.
The bill sponsors also claim they want to add transparency and clarity to the EEOC’s enforcement actions, but as Penn State Law Professor Michael Forman testified at the hearing, “These bills are a remedy in search of a problem.”
We agree. In 2013, over 93,000 charges of employment discrimination were filed with the EEOC. If House lawmakers want to fix a problem, maybe they should start there.