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Harkin Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Nominees

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered the following statement at the HELP Committee hearing on two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) nominees. The EEOC nominees include P. David Lopez, nominated to serve as General Counsel, and Charlotte Burrows, nominated to serve as a Member of the EEOC.

Harkin praised the nominees, urging swift approval and emphasizing the important role the EEOC plays in promoting equality of opportunity in the workplace and enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. 

*Chairman Harkin’s Statement As Prepared for Delivery.*

“Throughout my career I have been guided by the vision of an America that is compassionate, just, and inclusive — a society where the government provides a ladder – or sometimes a ramp – that will give all people equal access to the American dream. But that ladder cannot function properly if there are barriers of discrimination that unfairly limit opportunities for some Americans to fully participate in the social, political, and economic life of this nation.

“Over the last 45 years, we have made great strides towards eliminating discrimination in the workplace.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, in 1967, prohibited discrimination on the basis of age.  The Americans with Disabilities Act, in 1990, and the ADA Amendments Act, in 2008, prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. 

“These important guarantees, however, are only as strong as the agency charged with enforcing them, the EEOC.  The EEOC’s mission is simple – to promote equality of opportunity in the workplace and enforce federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. 

“While much progress has been made in recent decades, discrimination in the workplace continues to be all too common.  Too many employment decisions are based on insidious stereotypes and prejudices rather than an employee’s talent, ability, and qualifications.  Too many hardworking Americans face the harsh reality of getting a pink slip or not being hired at all because of race, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability or some other irrelevant factor. 

“The problem is especially pronounced for individuals with disabilities.  Less than 30 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities participate in the workforce, and households with an adult member with a disability earn 38.4 percent less than households without an adult member with a disability. These facts make it clear that people with disabilities are still encountering roadblocks, and that the ADA’s goal of economic self-sufficiency has not yet been achieved.

“While I am optimistic that our amendments to the Rehabilitation Act – contained within the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 – will help us make us make progress in the future, the EEOC will always have an important role to play in combating discrimination and supporting employment opportunities, both for individuals with disabilities and all Americans

“Unfortunately, today’s EEOC faces enormous challenges.  The agency has a substantial backlog of almost 71,000 cases.  And it takes an average of 267 days to process a discrimination claim.  All too often justice delayed is justice denied.

“American workers deserve better, especially in these times of economic turmoil, when discrimination often increases and workers who are victims of discrimination face even greater challenges.  Now more than ever, we need strong leadership at the EEOC.  The nominees are both extremely well-qualified and have a commitment to public service.  They possess the extraordinary skills and experience that will help them advance the EEOC’s mission and ensure proper enforcement of some of our most important laws.

“I look forward to working with Senator Alexander to move these nominees quickly so they can get to work ensuring fairness and equal opportunity for every American worker.”