Jenny Yang, the New Chair of the EEOC
September 3, 2014
Jaqueline Berrien is leaving Washington and her post as the Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Insert your own emoticon here. President Obama announced today that she’ll be replaced by Vice Chair, Jenny Yang. Congratulations are in order for Yang, who is the first Asian-American to chair the agency.
Yang was the favorite to replace Berrien when she was appointed Vice Chair in 2014—just one year after her appointment to the Commission. Yang’s term expires July 1, 2017. Yang is known for her work in the non-profit sector as well as her work as a litigator and partner with Washington-based plaintiff law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll P.L.L.C where she represented employees. Her firm Cohen Milstein represented workers in the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. gender discrimination litigation.
Berrien leaves in the midst of recent harsh criticism of the EEOC’s tactics. The Commission has become known for its tendency to shoot first and sort things out later. Recent court opinions, orders to pay sanctions (EEOC v. Peoplemark), and other losses have led to a fair amount of public criticism and negative publicity for the EEOC. Business organizations including the US Chamber and even the US Commission on Civil Rights have been openly critical of some EEOC tactics. You can read about the judge’s the scathing opinion in a recent decision involving criminal background checks, EEOC v. Freeman Cos, here.
Yang is expected to continue the Commission’s focus on systemic cases and disparate impact litigation. Like her predecessor, her experience as a litigator suggests she will continue the push for enforcement in the courts. The focus on questioning the use of criminal history in hiring is expected to continue. But Yang’s appointment opens up the opportunity for new dialogue and fresh leadership.
Berrien’s departure leaves one vacancy on the Commission, which is left with four members: Democratic appointees Yang and Chai Feldblum and Republican members Constance Barker and Victoria Lipnic. Until a new appointment is approved, this leaves a divided Commission. Time will tell how Yang’s appointment will affect the Commission, its strategic vision for the future, and the impact on US employers and job-seekers.
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