05.19.15

Murray: Stronger Protections Needed to Eliminate Workplace Discrimination

Murray: “Freedom from discrimination is a requirement for making sure all Americans have the opportunity to work hard and succeed.”

(Washington, D.C) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a Committee hearing on oversight of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In her opening statement, Murray called for Congress to give the EEOC the resources it needs to fight discrimination in the workplace and make reductions in its backlog. Murray also called for Congress to update anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT Americans and to promote equality of opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

“I believe that real, long-term economic growth is built from the middle out, not the top down. And our government, economy, and workplaces should work for all families, not just the wealthiest few. But we can’t truly achieve those goals if some individuals in our country face discrimination in the workplace or aren’t considered for jobs because of who they are.  Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other irrelevant factors have nothing to do with a person’s ability and potential in the workplace.  But we can’t back up that basic belief and put it into practice without the EEOC, which is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws.”

“I believe it is time for Congress to step up and give the EEOC the resources it needs to fight discrimination in our nation’s workplaces. That would help the agency reduce its severe backlog. EEOC demonstrated in 2011 and 2012 that with just a small increase in resources, they could make steady reductions in the backlog. But sequestration and shutdowns have made that work more difficult. That’s truly concerning. In too many cases, justice delayed is justice denied. So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on what the agency is doing to reduce its backlog of claims.”

“This year, we are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, and the amendments that followed, prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. But we still need to make progress to promote equality of opportunity in the workplace for individuals with disabilities. And we need to ensure that all employers recognize these important protections, for example, in workplace wellness programs.”

“Congress also needs to update our anti-discrimination laws to protect people from discrimination, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need stronger LGBT anti-discrimination laws in employment, education, housing, credit, and in public places.”

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank our witnesses, Chair Yang and General Counsel Lopez, for taking the time to be here today.

“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does important work to protect workers and to prevent discrimination in the workplace.  I appreciate your hard work and dedication to that cause.

“This hearing is an opportunity to remember the critically important role the EEOC plays in eliminating discrimination in workplaces across the country.

“I believe that real, long-term economic growth is built from the middle out, not the top down. And our government, economy, and workplaces should work for all families, not just the wealthiest few.

“But we can’t truly achieve those goals if some individuals in our country face discrimination in the workplace or aren’t considered for jobs because of who they are.  Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other irrelevant factors have nothing to do with a person’s ability and potential in the workplace.  But we can’t back up that basic belief and put it into practice without the EEOC, which is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

“The EEOC will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Before its inception, it was legally permissible for a business to fire someone for their religious beliefs.  Employers could harass employees based on the color of their skin. Job applicants could be disqualified in the application process because of where they were from.

“In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. And just one year later, the EEOC opened its doors to help ensure workers had the right to equality and opportunity. 

“For five decades, the Commission has made great strides in creating a more fair and more just society. In fact, the EEOC’s success rate in litigation has consistently topped 90 percent, including more than 93 percent this past Fiscal Year.

“That success comes despite years of budget cuts and belt tightening that has whittled the agency’s workforce by more than 700 full-time employees since 1995. And it’s one more reason why we need to build on our bipartisan budget deal to continue rolling back the automatic cuts, so we can restore investments that expand opportunities for all families. 

“I believe it is time for Congress to step up and give the EEOC the resources it needs to fight discrimination in our nation’s workplaces. That would help the agency reduce its severe backlog.

“EEOC demonstrated in 2011 and 2012 that with just a small increase in resources, they could make steady reductions in the backlog. But sequestration and shutdowns have made that work more difficult. That’s truly concerning. In too many cases, justice delayed is justice denied. So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on what the agency is doing to reduce its backlog of claims.

“This year, we are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, and the amendments that followed, prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. But we still need to make progress to promote equality of opportunity in the workplace for individuals with disabilities. And we need to ensure that all employers recognize these important protections, for example, in workplace wellness programs.

“Congress also needs to update our anti-discrimination laws to protect people from discrimination, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need stronger LGBT anti-discrimination laws in employment, education, housing, credit, and in public places.

“On that note, I hope, Mr. Chairman that this Committee can continue its bipartisan efforts to address these critical issues.

“Freedom from discrimination is a requirement for making sure all Americans have the opportunity to work hard and succeed. I want to commend the EEOC on the important work it does to make sure our government, economy, and workplaces are free from discrimination. And I look forward to your testimony.”

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