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Trump to Tap Wage-Hour Lawyer for Equal Employment Agency (1)

July 3, 2019, 2:40 PM; Updated: July 3, 2019, 6:43 PM

The White House will nominate Keith Sonderling, currently a Labor Department official, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new Republican commissioner.

President Donald Trump intends to select the former Florida business attorney along with Democrat Charlotte Burrows, a current EEOC commissioner, for another term, the White House said in a statement July 3 following a Bloomberg Law report earlier in the day.

The EEOC, which enforces federal workplace discrimination law, has several significant policy decisions on its plate. That includes how to reckon with a judge’s recent ruling that the agency must proceed with an Obama-era initiative to require employers to submit equal pay data to the commission.

The agency is also at the center of a Trump administration rift over LGBT discrimination. The EEOC says that a federal ban on sex bias at work also prohibits sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The Justice Department, which is representing the EEOC in a transgender discrimination case before the Supreme Court, says Congress didn’t mean to protect LGBT workers when it passed the law more than five decades ago.

Sonderling joined the Trump administration in September 2017 as the DOL Wage and Hour Division’s senior policy adviser. He later became the agency’s acting administrator for the first four months of 2019, during which he oversaw the release of a trio of major proposed rules favored by employers.

“Keith is doing great work at the Wage and Hour Division. We congratulate him on his nomination,” a DOL spokeswoman said in an email. He remains at the WHD as deputy administrator while waiting for his Senate confirmation process to begin.

A representative for the EEOC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Sonderling-Burrows packaged nominations come shortly after the EEOC regained a Republican majority for the first time in Trump’s presidency. Corporate lawyer Janet Dhillon was confirmed in May as EEOC chair.

Before joining the Labor Department, Sonderling was a shareholder in the Gunster Law Firm in Florida. According to an old bio on his firm’s website, his practice focused on defending employers in labor and employment cases.

Sonderling was appointed in 2012 by Florida’s governor at the time, Republican Rick Scott, to the Fourth District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission and later became chair.

The five-year term of Obama-appointee Burrows expired on July 1. She can extend her term for the rest of the year while waiting for Senate confirmation.

—With assistance from Chris Opfer

(Updated to reflect White House and Labor Department comments.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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