- Pay equity will be "front and center" for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Biden administration, as will efforts to root out systemic discrimination, according to chair Charlotte Burrows. Beyond that, she said during an April 8 American Bar Association conference, she’ll be working to strengthen the EEOC as an institution.
- "We're facing a very urgent issue — as all of you know — of systemic discrimination and systemic racism," Burrows said. "So you should expect first and foremost a renewed attention to tackling systemic discrimination in all forms on all bases, while also looking of course to advance those individual charges, and that's including but not limited to race discrimination."
- With respect to strengthening the commission, Burrows said she’s focused on staffing. During fiscal year 2020, EEOC’s full-time staff dropped to its lowest level since 1980, she noted, "so one of the first things I did was to authorize hiring of about 450 new staff across the agency."
Burrows has served on the commission for years but was recently elevated to chair by President Joe Biden, a position held by Republicans in recent years. Still, the priorities she spelled out last week were not a significant change in direction; they generally aligned with both predictions for her tenure and the commission’s existing strategic enforcement plan, adopted several years ago.
The U.S. construction industry is grappling with issues surrounding systemic racism. The problem came to a head last year after several racist incidents on jobsites across North America were reported to authorities, including nooses hung where people of color could find them and racist graffiti scrawled on walls and in restrooms.
While these incidents made headlines last year, industry insiders say that racism has been pervasive in construction for years, and often manifests itself in more subtle, systemic ways. These include a lack of diversity in hiring and promotions, prejudice against minority-owned firms and struggles with getting financing.
EEOC’s shifts may well appear less drastic than those of other agencies as the new administration settles in. After all, the independent agency, at times, clashed with the Trump administration. Most notably, it took the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while the U.S. Department of Justice argued the opposite before the U.S. Supreme Court. (DOJ now plans to enforce Title VII in line with the EEOC’s interpretation and that of the high court, an official confirmed during the April 8 conference session.)
Burrows did not elaborate on how the commission plans to tackle pay equity, but that could be one area where an Obama-era initiative shelved during the Trump administration could return. EEOC, near the end of President Barack Obama’s tenure, added pay data reporting to its EEO-1 filing requirements. Following the change in administrations, President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget attempted to stay the mandate; a court, however, intervened and put the reporting requirement back in effect.
The commission has not renewed that request since and has not indicated whether it intends to, but Burrows previously voiced support for some form of pay data collection. Before the first collection, she said at a 2019 conference that she expected the so-called Component 2 information to be "very useful to the agency." "I'm hopeful we will be able to use this in several ways," she said. "We don't reveal specifics about [the data] but we do have the opportunity to take it and use it in ways that are helpful."
It’s worth noting, however, that while Burrows sets the direction for the agency, Republicans still hold a majority of its five seats, so any major employee-friendly changes may face an uphill battle until at least mid-2022, when the first of the three Republican commissioners’ terms expires.