The undersigned 93 civil rights, workers’ rights, and gender equality organizations write to express our strong support for the nomination of Kalpana Kotagal to serve as a Commissioner on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Ms. Kotagal is an exceptionally qualified civil rights lawyer who has dedicated the bulk of her career to helping everyday working people enforce their rights under federal employment and anti-discrimination laws. Her deep knowledge of the law and her experience addressing systemic discrimination make her an outstanding choice to help lead the EEOC in its work to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all in workplaces that are respectful and inclusive.
The EEOC enforces employment anti-discrimination laws in the private workforce and federal sector, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act), the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The EEOC not only pursues charges of discrimination, litigating when appropriate, but it also plays a key role in helping to prevent discrimination through outreach, education, data collection, and technical assistance programs. Laws interpreted and enforced by the EEOC are critical to workplace fairness and opportunity for women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and people with disabilities.
For over 15 years, Ms. Kotagal has practiced law at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, where she is now a partner in the Civil Rights and Employment Group and specializes in representing groups of workers in complex class action litigation focused on systemic discrimination. Ms. Kotagal’s extensive experience will complement and strengthen the EEOC, which has long focused its enforcement efforts on individual and systemic cases that address significant legal issues with substantial impact.
Among the cases where Ms. Kotagal has played a leading role are:
- Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc.: In this arbitration class action, Ms. Kotagal represents thousands of current and former women sales employees who allege that they experienced discrimination in pay and promotion in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination. The case, which recently settled, also helped to uncover allegations of widespread sexual harassment and abuse at the company.
- Allen v. AT&T Mobility: Ms. Kotagal partnered with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project to represent current and former AT&T Mobility retail representatives who allege that they were penalized for their pregnancy-related absences under their employer’s attendance policy in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The case is ongoing.
- Complainant v. Donohue, United States Postal Service: Ms. Kotagal successfully settled this case brought under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 before an EEOC administrative judge alleging that USPS had subjected a class of disabled veterans to improper pre-employment medical inquiries. Under the settlement agreement, class members received more than $9 million and USPS agreed to make changes to its hiring practices to prevent future violations.
Ms. Kotagal has also represented clients in other employment class actions, including a lawsuit alleging unpaid wages to people living in an adult rehabilitation center, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act; failure to pay overtime wages to employees of a poultry plant; and conspiracy to artificially suppress nurses’ wages in violation of federal antitrust laws. Beyond employment issues, Ms. Kotagal’s work has encompassed access to housing and healthcare, and demonstrates her broad commitment to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity, free from pernicious discrimination.
Throughout her career, Ms. Kotagal has consistently focused on protecting the most vulnerable workers from abusive practices, including sexual harassment and abuse. Ms. Kotagal was a part of the legal team to settle a shareholder derivative suit against certain officers and directors of Wynn Resorts, Ltd. resulting from allegations that they had failed to hold the CEO accountable for a pattern of sexual misconduct and harassment of employees. The settlement agreement contained several policy changes aimed at increasing board diversity and establishing a workplace free from abuse. In her advocacy, Ms. Kotagal has also demonstrated deep understanding of the connection between sexual harassment and assault and other forms of discrimination in the workplace and has continuously highlighted the importance of accountability, transparency, and survivor-centered resources.
Ms. Kotagal is also an innovative and creative thinker who has demonstrated experience developing relationships and working with diverse stakeholders to promote affirmative strategies to advance equality. These qualities are critical to the work of leading the commission and ensuring the development of robust enforcement strategies. For example, Ms. Kotagal has spearheaded efforts to proactively advance opportunities for working people from underrepresented and marginalized communities. Together with Pearl Street Films and the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Ms. Kotagal developed the Inclusion Rider, a contractual clause that creates flexible benchmarks for hiring diverse candidates for Hollywood projects. In 2021, building off of the success of the Inclusion Rider, Ms. Kotagal joined with racial justice groups and industry leaders to release an Inclusion Rider template and a set of policy guidelines and resources for companies looking to implement an Inclusion Rider as part of their hiring practices. The Inclusion Rider has since been used in several Hollywood studios and production companies, as well as in the music and fashion industries.
The child of immigrants from India, Ms. Kotagal grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She earned her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School before serving as a law clerk for Judge Betty Binns Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Ms. Kotagal has received numerous awards for her work as a civil rights and employment lawyer and is a leading national voice on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Ms. Kotagal’s deep legal expertise and experience identifying and challenging systemic discrimination, coupled with her unwavering commitment to ensuring justice for the most vulnerable working people, make her exceptionally qualified to serve as an EEOC Commissioner. We urge you to swiftly confirm her nomination. For any questions, please contact Gaylynn Burroughs, director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center ([email protected]) or Josh Boxerman, policy analyst, at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights ([email protected]g).