A number of LGBT groups have come out in support of nominees for a federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights law amid opposition from Republicans and discontent from an anti-gay group.
Both nominees were nominated by President Obama to serve on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. P. David Lopez was named in July to serve for another term as the agency’s general counsel and Charlotte Burrows, a former staffer for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, was named in September to serve as commissioner for the agency.
Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, said confirmation of the nominees is a “vote in favor of giving LGBT employees, just like all American workers, a fair shot on the job.”
Almeida particularly emphasized the importance of confirming Lopez, who’s being renominated after having previously served as top lawyer for EEOC and faced the most significant opposition from Republicans. According to Almeida, EEOC under Lopez won 9 out of 10 federal discrimination trials it litigated during the prior fiscal year, including significant verdicts finding racial discrimination.
“That successful track record is now poised to benefit LGBT Americans in our struggle to get equal treatment on the job,” Almeida said. “It is tremendously important that the EEOC has recently begun litigating cases where transgender Americans were unlawfully fired or denied fair treatment on the job, and our community has a strong interest in ensuring that an outstanding lawyer and dedicated public servant like David Lopez gets a second term as the EEOC’s top lawyer.”
In all likelihood, time is running short to confirm the nominees because those efforts will be more difficult when Republicans take control of the Senate on Jan. 6 following electoral wins. Almeida said Freedom to Work is lobbying Senate offices from both parties leading up the vote, which is expected next week, but he refused to say which ones.
Two years ago, the EEOC determined in the case of Macy v. Holder that discrimination against employees for being transgender amounts to gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allowing transgender to file complaints and receive damages if they feel they’ve experienced discrimination based on gender identity. The agency could be poised to take up a similar case asserting protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers under civil rights law, although lesbian EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum has said those protections already exist as a result of the Macy decision.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said her organization “is very interested and has been vocal” in supporting the Senate confirmation of the nominees.
“Charlotte Burrows will be an excellent addition to the Commission,” Keisling said. “It is vital that the EEOC be at full complement so that they can continue the important work they do enforcing anti-discrimination. This is especially true now that the EEOC has made LGBT discrimination an enforcement priority.”
Asked to clarify whether NCTE also backs the Lopez confirmation, Keisling replied, “Absolutely.”
In the event Congress were to pass some version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the planned comprehensive non-discrimination bill for housing, credit, public accommodations, education, employment and federal programs, the EEOC would likely be charged with enforcing these laws with respect to employment.
The nation’s largest LGBT group, the Human Rights Campaign, remains silent on the nomination. The organization didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to comment on the nominees, nor to say whether it will include the confirmation votes as part of its congressional scorecard.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out the nominations last week to the Senate floor. Burrows was approved by voice vote, but Lopez was approved along party-lines, according to Freedom to Work.
That vote followed a contentious hearing in which Republican members of the committee took Lopez to task for his previous work at EEOC. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking Republican on the committee, took issue with Lopez filing an age discrimination lawsuit without prior consent from the commissions, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a likely presidential candidate, objected to litigation without an underlying complaint first being filed first. No objections were made during the hearing over the commissions handling of LGBT employment discrimination.
“You’re going to go looking for things in businesses that have no complaints,” Paul said. “I think it’s absolutely inexcusable, I think it’s un-American, I think it’s dishonorable. I could go on and on and on. I hope you will rethink you’re position on these things. It is something that we should eliminate and I will do everything in my possibility to make sure you’re not allowed to do it anymore.”
The Family Research Council, an anti-gay group, also took issue with EEOC in an e-mail blast to supporters on Monday. Although neither Burrows nor Lopez is named, the e-mail says the “Obama Left” is trying to use the lame duck session of Congress “to attack your family,” citing actions by the EEOC as a chief concern.
According to the anti-gay group, two lawsuits that were filed by the commission against businesses for alleged discrimination against transgender discrimination amounts to “a dagger aimed at freedom of religion—intended to silence people of faith, intimidate employers who possess traditional values and indoctrinate working Americans.”
Almeida said the email amounts to an attack on the EEOC nominees and they would in fact be dedicated to the public interest if confirmed to serve on the agency.
“It’s not surprising that Tony Perkins and other anti-LGBT extremists would attack President Obama’s very well qualified nominees to lead the EEOC, but it’s just plain sad to see Perkins use such foul anti-trans bigotry as the stated reason,” Almeida said.
Stacey Long Simmons, director of policy and government affairs for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said her organization supports the nominees based on the positions they’ve expressed thus far.
“EEOC Commissioner designate Charlotte Burrows is a champion on vital issues such as fair pay for women and General Counsel David Lopez has led the effort in filing transgender employment discrimination cases,” she said. “He also chairs the commission’s immigrant worker team — a group tasked with strengthening and coordinating EEOC enforcement and outreach on employment discrimination issues. We support their nominations.”