Metro Weekly

Senate confirms Obama EEOC nominees

Photo: U.S. Capitol. Credit: Eric E Johnson/flickr.

U.S. Capitol – Photo: Eric E Johnson/flickr

The U.S. Senate confirmed two Obama nominees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Wednesday that advocates say will be critical in protecting LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination.

The Senate voted 53-43 to reappointment David Lopez as EEOC general counsel and 93-2 to confirm Charlotte Burrows as EEOC commissioner.

The EEOC is tasked with protecting workers against discrimination and has taken strides to protect transgender workers in recent years. In April 2012, the EEOC found in Macy v. Holder that “sex discrimination,” which is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, includes discrimination against transgender people. This past September the EEOC filed lawsuits in federal courts in Florida and Michigan against companies accused of discriminating against transgender employees.

“Charlotte Burrows and David Lopez have proven that they have the temperament, experience, and judgment to serve on behalf of America’s work force, and understand the need for LGBT Americans to be protected from discrimination in their workplaces,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “We congratulate both Charlotte Burrows and David Lopez on their confirmation by the U.S. Senate and look forward to working with them in ensuring all Americans are protected from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Although Burrows, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy and associate deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice since 2009, was nearly unanimously confirmed, Lopez faced a tougher renomination process. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last month, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tore into Lopez for  investigating businesses that have not faced complaints of discrimination. “How can you show up to work with a straight face? I don’t understand how you wouldn’t resign immediately, and say, ‘This is abhorrent,’” Paul said during the hearing.

Lopez was first confirmed by the Senate in Dec. 2010. Both nominees were endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national progressive organizations.

According to Tico Almeida, founder and president of Freedom to Work, the confirmations of Lopez and Burrows will prove critical to LGBT workers who face discrimination.

“The EEOC already protects transgender employees across America from discrimination, and someday soon the EEOC may protect gays and lesbians too,” Almeida said in a statement.

The morning of the Senate vote, Freedom to Work pressured six centrist Democratic senators — Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.) — through a phone-banking operation to confirm Lopez. All six voted to confirm.

“LGBT Americans are better off now that David Lopez has been confirmed to a second term as top litigator for the EEOC,” Almeida continued. “David Lopez initiated historic litigation earlier this year on behalf of transgender employees who were unlawfully fired or treated horribly at work, and during his second term leading the EEOC’s litigation office, we are hopeful that this outstanding lawyer will begin to rack up significant legal victories on behalf of LGBT Americans.”

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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