EEOC Diversity Luncheon: Discussions of Budget Hurdles and Enforcement Priorities with Hon. Jacqueline Berrien and Hon. Victoria Lipnic
When the Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Jacqueline A. Berrien, and EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic sat down for an informal conversation regarding workplace diversity during the Diversity Luncheon at the National Conference on Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the dialogue quickly moved to the possible effects of budget cuts on diversity in the public workplace.
Berrien expressed her pride in last year's Legal Times headline, which declared "EEOC, Practicing What it Preaches, Employs Most Diverse Federal Legal Workforce." According to that article, 61 percent of the EEOC's 497 attorneys are white, while 23 percent are black or African American, 8 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 6 percent are Asian. The EEOC also employs the highest percentage of lawyers with disabilities in the federal government--2.4 percent. However, Berrien said that the "EEOC is not going to rest on its laurels." Instead, the agency will continue its efforts to employ a diverse workforce.
But Berrien cautioned that she had a "deep concern about budget cuts, vacancies, and unaddressed attrition" detracting from the EEOC's efforts to maintain a diverse workforce. Because the public sector has historically provided more work opportunities for women and people of color than the private sector, Berrien was concerned that major budget reductions could adversely affect diversity in the public workplace.
Regarding gender diversity in the workplace, Lipnic said that "there is a lot more work to be done," as she discussed the "strange" fact that only 15 percent of equity partners in private law firms are women as compared to the much higher percentage of entry level female associates. Lipnic said that in the current economy, "getting a job" is the first barrier that women face on the road to reaching the higher rungs of the legal profession. But Lipnic also acknowledged that caregivers, who are often women, tend to face additional barriers as they scale the rungs of the profession. Additionally, gender based pay disparity continues to plague the nation.
"This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act," said Berrien, "and although we have come a long way, gender-based pay disparity continues to exist." Berrien and Lipnic echoed the EEOC's plan to recommit itself to ensuring that the promise of the Equal Pay Act is realized by prioritizing the EEOC's attention on issues regarding pay disparity.
Indeed, in the Strategic Enforcement Plan (FY 2013-2016), which established national enforcement priorities, the EEOC prioritized the enforcement of equal pay laws, and committed to enhanced enforcement of equal pay laws to eliminate compensation systems and practices that discriminate based on gender. In the Plan, the EEOC also avowed to target harassment against "vulnerable workers," such as migrant workers; disability discrimination fueled by "myths, fears, and stereotypes;" and pregnancy discrimination.
However, Lipnic warned that the EEOC's attention to any particular aspect of employment discrimination does not mean that it will ignore other issues that may arise during the course of its investigations. "In every sense of the word, the EEOC does not address issues with tunnel vision," said Berrien. "The EEOC will pursue every allegation of wrongdoing equally."
Alyesha A. Dotson is an associate with Spilman Thomas & Battle PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia, where she practices labor and employment law.
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