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Background of EEOC general counsel nominee raises concerns

Posted On: Apr. 26, 2018 2:34 PM CST

Background of EEOC general counsel nominee raises concerns

Several civil rights organization have expressed their “strong concerns” regarding the nomination of Sharon Fast Gustafson as general counsel to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission following her testimony during a Senate committee confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, the unexpected nomination of Ms. Gustafson to the critical EEOC post has generated some concern among employer advocates as well, says an expert.

“We are troubled by Ms. Gustafson’s evasive answers regarding the rights of LGBT workers, as well as the limited knowledge of the EEOC’s landmark cases and ongoing litigation that she professes to have during her hearing” before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, says Friday’s letter, referring to the April 10 hearing.

The EEOC “needs an effective general counsel who is committed to enforcing the law and protecting the rights of all employees, regardless of sexual orientation,” the letter says.

The letter refers to “Ms. Gustafson’s repeated refusal to answer questions during her hearing regarding the Commission’s established legal positions and her willingness to support and enforce the law in accordance with those positions so long as they remain the view of her commission.”

The letter is addressed to Senate committee chair Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash. It is signed by The Human Rights Campaign; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; the National Center for Transgender Equality; the National Partnership for Women and Families; and the National Women’s Law Center.

It refers to the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality for more information. A spokesperson had no additional comment.

Employer attorney Gerald L. Maatman Jr., a partner with Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P. in Chicago, said, “She’s an unconventional choice as far as her experience has not been focused on management or employer representation.” Although her background on her website talks about her representation of both employers and employees, “it is 99.9% workers and 0.1% employers,” he added.

“The job of the EEOC general counsel is to be the chief law enforcement litigator to enforce workplace bias laws, and so the issue is, how will Republicans and Democrats in the Senate react to somebody with that sort of background in terms of skill set,” said Mr. Maatman.

Mr. Maatman added, however, that he anticipates Ms. Gustafson’s nomination — along with the pending Senate votes on Republican nominees Janet Dhillon, the proposed EEOC chair, and Daniel M. Glade and the renomination of Democrat Chai Feldblum to the commission — will eventually be confirmed by the Senate. 

An EEOC spokeswoman had no comment.