© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seen in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
(This July 13 story has been corrected to fix the spelling of ‘Kalpana Kotagal’ in paragraph 2)
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 it to enforce pro-worker polices backed by his administration.
The Democrat-led Senate voted 49-47 along party lines on Thursday to confirm civil rights lawyer Kalpana Kotagal, a partner at prominent plaintiffs’ law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, to a vacancy on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC has had a Democratic chair, Charlotte Burrows, since early in the Biden administration but had been deadlocked with two Democratic appointees and two Republican appointees on the commission prior to Kotagal’s confirmation.
Thursday’s vote paves the way for Democrats to be able 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 to hold companies liable for discrimination claims brought by contract and franchise workers rather than just their employees.
The commission investigates workplace discrimination complaints and can sue employers or give workers permission to file their own lawsuits, and can adopt rules and guidance on enforcing anti-bias laws.
Kotagal and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the confirmation, which fills the seat vacated by Janet Dhillon, who chaired the commission during the administration of Republican former President Donald Trump.
Republicans and conservative groups have criticized Kotagal’s nomination over her opposition to mandatory arbitration of employment disputes and her positions on LGBTQ rights and policing, among other issues.
In a post on Twitter before 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 liberty and force her politics on Texas companies,” Cruz said.
Progressive advocacy groups praised Thursday’s Senate vote, citing Kotagal’s deep experience with anti-discrimination law.
“Kotagal’s confirmation positions the EEOC and the Biden administration to effectively confront sex harassment and LGBTQI discrimination, advance pay equity and pregnancy accommodations, and much more,” National Women’s Law Center Vice President Emily Martin said in a statement.
Amid the #MeToo movement, Kotagal helped to develop the concept of an “inclusion rider,” which is a provision in actors’ contracts requiring Hollywood studios to hire more diverse casts and crews.
Kotagal also advised companies on creating diversity and inclusion policies and has represented workers in high-profile sex bias class-actions against Walmart (NYSE:) Inc, AT&T (NYSE:) Mobility and Sterling Jewelers.