By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to the agency that enforces workplace bias laws, giving Democrats a majority on the five-member panel that would allow him to implement pro-worker policies supported by his administration.
The Democratic-led Senate on Thursday voted 49 to 47 along party lines to confirm civil rights attorney Kolpana Kotagal, a partner at law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, to a vacancy on the Commission for the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC).
The EEOC has had a Democratic chairwoman, Charlotte Burrows, since the start of the Biden administration, but was deadlocked with two Democratic nominations and two Republican nominations to the commission before Kotagal’s confirmation.
Thursday’s vote clears the way for Democrats to pursue policy changes related to LGBTQ rights, religious freedom and other issues.
The EEOC is also expected to propose a rule making it easier for companies to be held liable for discrimination claims brought by contractors and franchisees rather than just their employees.
The commission investigates complaints of workplace discrimination and can sue employers or allow workers to bring their own lawsuits, and can adopt rules and guidance on the enforcement of anti-bias laws.
Kotagal and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Confirmation, which fills the seat vacated by Janet Dhillon, who chaired the commission during the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump.
Republicans and conservative groups criticized Kotagal’s nomination for his opposition to mandatory labor dispute arbitration and his positions on LGBTQ rights and policing, among other issues.
In a post on Twitter ahead of the confirmation vote, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he was “concerned about Kalpana Kotagal’s record of support for radical transgender ideology.”
“Based on Kotagal’s record, I think she will use her position to attack religious freedom and impose her policies on Texas businesses,” Cruz said.
Progressive advocacy groups hailed Thursday’s Senate vote, citing Kotagal’s deep experience with the anti-discrimination law.
“Kotagal’s confirmation positions the EEOC and the Biden administration to effectively address sexual harassment and LGBTQI discrimination, advance pay equity and pregnancy accommodations, and much more,” the vice president said. of the National Women’s Law Center, Emily Martin, in a statement.
Amid the #MeToo movement, Kotagal helped develop the concept of an “inclusion jumper,” which is a provision in actors’ contracts requiring Hollywood studios to hire more diverse cast and crew.
Kotagal has also advised companies on the creation of diversity and inclusion policies and represented workers in high profile class action lawsuits against Walmart Inc, AT&T Mobility and Sterling Jewelers.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Alexia Garamfaivi and Susan Heavey)