February 13, 2017 Category: Discrimination
Days after announcing a leadership change at the top, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it was moving an LGBTQ rights lawsuit to the backburner.
In January 2017, President Donald Trump elevated EEOC Member Victoria Lipnic to Acting Chair. Former President Barack Obama appointed the Republican to the EEOC in 2010. Before then, she was at the Department of Labor, and before then, she was an attorney in private practice. Jonathan Segal, a former Democrat colleague, said that Ms. Lipnic had worked closely with the other EEOC commissioners and that she would be “pragmatic” in her new position.
However, a short time later, citing “administrative-related changes at the Commission,” the EEOC asked for more time to file response briefs in the case involving Aimee (nee Anthony) Stephens, a transgender funeral home worker who lost her job in 2013. Three years later, a federal judge ruled that transgenders were not a protected class under Title VII and the funeral home could lawfully fire Ms. Stephens pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That case is currently before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Almost immediately thereafter, the White House released a statement saying that President Trump was “proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech” and he “continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.”
Employment Discrimination Procedure
Because of the exhaustion doctrine, all employment discrimination complainants must go to the EEOC before they seek an employment lawyer’s assistance in filing civil lawsuits. The same principle applies in other areas, such as environmental actions or union disputes that arguably fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Labor Relations Board. Once the EEOC receives complaints, they decide whether or not to pursue them, and the agency either proceeds with an investigation or issues a right-to-sue letter enabling the complainant to seek relief in court.
It’s important not to be discouraged by a right-to-sue letter and think that because the EEOC did not pursue the claim, then it must be meritless. As the above story illustrates, the EEOC has political priorities the often override its commitment to workers, so matter what its leaders may or many not say. Furthermore, many EEOC regional offices, especially the ones in Northern California, are quite understaffed, and so these offices only accept cases with egregious facts that will settle quickly and involve no unusual or novel legal issues.
The EEOC has its own battles to fight. For a free consultation with an experienced San Jose employment lawyer who’ll fight for you, contact the Briski Law Firm. After-hours appointments are available.