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May 19, 2015

Statement of
Jenny R. Yang, Chair
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
(Remarks prepared for delivery)

Good morning Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and distinguished Members of the Committee.  Thank you for inviting me to testify today with our General Counsel, David Lopez.  As Chair of EEOC, it has been a privilege to work with over 2000 dedicated colleagues across the country to fulfill our singular mission: to stop and remedy discrimination in the workplace.

This July marks two historic milestones. Our 50th anniversary as an agency and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  We are assessing where we are today, and we are charting our path forward to make the promise of our civil rights laws a reality for all.

Over the past 50 years, our nation has made great strides towards building  more inclusive workplaces. Yet, across the country, we continue to see discrimination in many forms.  I will highlight just a few:

  • Just last month the Commission held a meeting in Miami where we heard testimony on the persistent challenge of race and ethnicity discrimination in the 21st Century workplace.  Also last month, we settled claims that a drilling company subjected African American, Native American, Hispanic and Asian American workers to racial and ethnic slurs, physical harassment, and exclusion from higher paying jobs.  We obtained $14.5 million for over 1000 workers, as well as important changes to the employment practices. 
  • We have represented many women who are paid less than men, even when they are doing the same job and are equally if not more qualified.  In addition, in 70% of the pregnancy discrimination charges filed with EEOC, women say they were fired because they were pregnant.  We recently resolved a case on behalf a woman who had a miscarriage. She requested five days off to obtain medical treatment, and she was fired for taking this time.
  • We continue to see harassment in many forms, including sexual harassment and assault, which is particularly endemic for farm worker women.  Often, EEOC has been the last hope as criminal prosecutions are rare.  
  • Despite a generation of young people who have grown up with the ADA, many qualified people with disabilities still can't find a job or advance. 

We know that our work is not done.  Our agency is helping employers to build stronger and more productive workplaces through a commitment to equality. 

I truly believe that most employers want to comply with the law.  Providing guidance and investing in outreach and education are the best ways to prevent discrimination. We also appreciate the need to ensure coordination of our policy guidance and our enforcement efforts to provide a clear and consistent agency position.  On April 20th we published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that addresses the ADA's application to employer wellness programs to provide more certainty on the interaction of our federal laws.  We understand the importance of issuing a NPRM on GINA and wellness programs, which is targeted for July.

It is a top priority of ours to better serve the public, including by more effectively manage the pending inventory of charges.  In particular, we are investing in two areas: 1) hiring and training of front-line staff to rebuild capacity after years of hiring freezes; and 2) efficient case management systems. 

We are also strongly committed to early resolution of charges. The overwhelming majority of our work is accomplished by voluntary resolutions through mediation, settlement, and conciliation.  Litigation is truly a last resort.  For every lawsuit we filed last year, we voluntarily resolved over 100 charges without filing suit.

Our litigation program has been highly effective with a successful resolution rate, consistently over 90 percent.  Where we have faced losses, we have implemented lessons learned throughout the agency.

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Mach Mining is a positive step forward for all parties.  The decision provides needed clarity on the standards for judicial review of conciliation efforts. The agency has taken our responsibility to conciliate seriously, and we will continue to do so. Over the past three years, our success in resolving charges through conciliation has averaged nearly 40%. To continue this progress, we will be providing additional training for our investigators to enhance their conciliation skills.

Ultimately, our goal is to open the doors to opportunity for all.  To address some of our most stubborn workplace challenges, we are building active partnerships to develop innovative solutions. One example is our recently launched Select Task Force on Harassment, led by Commissioners Victoria Lipnic and Chai Feldblum. We are working with employer, worker, and academic experts to identify the underlying problems as well as strategies to prevent and remedy workplace harassment.

In closing, I thank the members of this Committee for your support for the mission of the agency.  I look forward to working with you, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.