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Justice, Labor Departments Join EEOC in Workplace Bias Pact

Nov. 2, 2020, 10:16 PM

EEOC leadership voted to approve a deal with the Labor and Justice departments, agreeing to consult with the DOJ on litigation stances and allow the Labor Department to retain individual discrimination complaints submitted by workers employed by federal contractors.

The Justice Department is now included in the longtime agreement between the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs that dates back to 1970.

It’s a move that could take away some EEOC authority over worker complaints that historically have been referred to the agency by the Labor Department. The pact approved Monday also calls for a closer collaboration with the Trump administration’s DOJ on potentially unsettled areas of employment law.

Republican EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon said Monday that the accord will allow the three agencies to “confer and consult” on religious liberty issues.

The five-member commission approved the agreement along party lines, with the three Republican commissioners voting in favor. EEOC Legal Counsel Andrew Maunz said the agreement will foster “better coordination between the agencies, more efficiency, and less duplication and redundancy” of enforcement efforts.

The agreement will take effect after the three participating agencies sign the document, the EEOC said in a statement.

Autonomy Concerns

Democratic Commissioner Jocelyn Samuels expressed concerns “both practical and legal” about the agreement, including the possibility that it could chip away at the quasi-independent agency’s autonomy. She said during the meeting that the EEOC was created by Congress independent of Cabinet agencies, like the Justice and Labor departments.

Democratic Commissioner Charlotte Burrows echoed Samuels’s concerns.

“We should preserve our autonomy while also enhancing our interagency cooperation,” Burrows said Monday.

Dhillon, however, made clear during the meeting that the agreement doesn’t give the Justice Department “veto power” over EEOC legal stances, but that it only “foresees consultation” with the agency on novel or unsettled interpretations of the law.

Burrows countered that the EEOC has disagreed with the Justice Department on legal approaches to novel areas in the past, particularly when it came to whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers were protected against job discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Supreme Court in June agreed with the EEOC that LGBT workers are protected.

The two Democratic commissioners proposed at least 10 amendments to the agreement, all of which failed along party lines.

The commission will meet again Nov. 9 to discuss updating its approach to religious discrimination in the workplace.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at psmith@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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