EEOC Commissioner Yang Reviews Agency Priorities at New York Seminar

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 8, 2017

Commissioner Jenny R. Yang, speaking at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) New York District Technical Assistance Program Seminar (TAPS) on June 7, confirmed that the agency's mission continues on despite a shift in priorities by the Trump administration and changing commission appointments.

The former EEOC Chair reviewed the four-year EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan (in place from 2017 through 2021) and its focus on emerging employment law issues and systemic enforcement.

While conceding that "this is a time of transition in the agency," Commissioner Yang affirmed that the "EEOC remains committed to its core values and core mission." Currently, there is one vacancy on the Commission, and Victoria A. Lipnic serves as the Acting Chair. Commissioner Yang's own term will expire on July 1, 2017. The EEOC's General Counsel position is also vacant.

The commissioner addressed present challenges to existing EEOC regulations and requirements. Regarding the EEOC's regulations expanding EEO-1 reporting obligations to include pay data collection, Commissioner Yang mentioned business groups' pending request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to reconsider those revisions. The commissioner stressed that although the OMB has not yet spoken, data is "critically important" to combating discrimination.

Commissioner Yang explained that pay equity violations are extremely difficult to ascertain absent happenstance: often, a claimant may learn of an unlawful salary differential by chance or because of a casual conversation. Because this type of discrimination is "very difficult to root out," Commissioner Yang argued that access to pay equity data is central to effective enforcement of equal pay laws.

Although the issue of pay equity tends to be viewed through a gender-based lens, Commissioner Yang clarified that the EEOC champions "pay equality for all workers," including all protected classes.

Regarding other strategic priorities, Commissioner Yang noted a steady increase in charges regarding LGBTQ discrimination filed each year since 2013, when the commission first started tracking this information.

Commissioner Yang also expressed concern at how the gig economy or sharing economy is changing the workplace. The EEOC has "seen allegations of discrimination regarding assignment and customer ratings systems in these on-demand companies." Commissioner Yang warned that the enforcement agency is "watching developments closely," and emphasized the importance of providing a safe and welcoming environment to all workers in a workplace, including those with temporary or part-time work assignments.

Despite current challenges, Commissioner Yang commented that she continues to be "impressed by companies around the country taking a stand against discrimination." In addition, she mentioned how employers may use innovative practices to resolve emergent compliance issues: "As we have industries transforming rapidly and we see innovations we never thought possible. . .we can address many of these vexing challenges."