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  3. Opening Statement of Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic

Opening Statement of Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic

Good morning, and welcome. Welcome to our task force members - great to see all you again. Welcome to our witnesses - thank you for your time and effort to participate today. And thank you to everyone in the audience, and those following along elsewhere, for taking the time to be here. We have for you what will be, we trust, a productive meeting on this important and, to put it mildly, timely topic.

Two years ago, Commissioner Feldblum and I sat here, delivering our final co-chairs' report of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. (If you haven't read it yet, you know what you have to do this afternoon.) June 20th, 2016 - the day we issued the report - it turned out, was nearly 16 months - 472 days, to be exact - before October 5th, 2017. That was the day New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Similar reporting by Ronan Farrow appeared in the New Yorker a few days later. Since then, we have seen the rise of the #MeToo and similar movements, and what has become a cultural awakening. At the time we issued our report, Commissioner Feldblum and I and our staffs set as a goal that "we wanted to make sure we had a report that did not just sit on a shelf." Little did we know. . .

Of course, the nature and extent of the revelations we've seen have come as no surprise to this agency. The problem of harassment in so many of our nation's workplaces is a problem long-recognized by the EEOC. We were so concerned, at a leadership level at the EEOC about this persistent problem we wanted to find other ways to speak to the issue. It is what led to the establishment of the Select Task Force in the first place. The legal prohibition of harassment in the workplace has been the law of the land for over 30 years now. Since before even that, the EEOC has been combatting harassment of all kinds, on all bases, in all types of workplaces, everywhere. That's what this agency has been doing, day in and day out, since before many in this room were even born.

But now, nine months into this great cultural awakening, we, the EEOC, and everyone involved in this, find ourselves dealing with many "second and third generation" issues. By that I mean, legal and other issues that have emerged to the forefront of all the recent attention - critically important, often complex issues that are now demanding attention. That is what we hope to explore today.

But first, a reminder is in order. This is a point we made upfront in the introduction to our final report. While the EEOC has been, and will continue to be a leader on this topic, we are only one player. As we put it in the report, "[O]ur agency is only one piece of the solution. Everyone in society must feel a stake in this effort. That is the only way we will achieve the goal of reducing the level of harassment in our workplaces to the lowest level possible."

But I repeat: the EEOC will continue to do its part: As the agency with expertise, as the enforcer of the law, and as an educator. And that is what we have been doing. Since our final report, and in the wake of Weinstein and #MeToo, the EEOC has continued to lead the way.

But, even before the revelations in the press beginning nine months ago, we dedicated ourselves, at the EEOC, to doing much follow-up from our report and to taking our recommendations seriously. I want to detail for you much of the work that the Commission has been doing, for the past two years. We would have been busy at the EEOC even without the #MeToo movement. Part of this includes looking inward, to ensure that "our own house is in order," as they say. We did a thorough review of our own internal policies and procedures about how to deal with harassment, making updates and revisions where needed. And, this spring, our senior executives went through our new Respectful Workplaces training - more on that in a minute - and we'll be training and educating our entire staff throughout the rest of the year.

That's internally; how about external to the agency? As I mentioned, we recently launched - on October 4, 2017, to be exact, one day before the Weinstein revelations - a new training program we're calling Respectful Workplaces. In our final report of the task force we said training must change - as a tool of prevention. We said it needs to move away from being overly focused on avoiding legal liability, and move more toward preventive models like civility and bystander intervention training. The Respectful Workplace training is the EEOC's shot at that. And it appears to be catching on. We invested the resources for more than a year, from the time we finished our report, in developing that training. Since October 2017, the EEOC has conducted over 200 sessions, training over 5,000 individuals on this new program. And, some of our offices are booked months out to meet the demand.

As you can imagine, the EEOC has been called to offer its expertise on the issue of harassment more than a few times over the past eight months. Our interactions with the press easily count in the triple digits at this point. Other organizations and institutions, among them Congress and the courts, have also come calling. I have testified in Congress twice, and have participated in numerous other meetings and discussions. Most recently, our colleague Commissioner Burrows testified in front of the House Women's Caucus on the issue. And, that doesn't come close to capturing the efforts of everyone across the agency and the outreach and assistance they've provided.

In addition, Commissioner Feldblum and I met with the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, instituted by Chief Justice Roberts and made up of a number of experienced federal judges and court administrators, as they examined the state of the judicial branch. I think my colleague will have more to tell you about that.

Finally, what else, what "more" can the EEOC be doing? I actually put that question to our leadership this past spring - what "more" can and should we, as an agency, be doing? I received many thoughtful suggestions - so much so that I recently established and launched an internal Harassment Prevention Action Team to coordinate implementation of all ongoing and new, internal and external efforts on prevention of harassment throughout the agency. As I noted in announcing this new team, this is a critical time for the EEOC in this cultural moment. And so, where more can and should be done, the EEOC will be there, "striving to make our workplaces productive places where we can all go, do our jobs, and be free from harassment."

Finally, I do want to mention one other point that we have been frequently asked here at the EEOC - and that is - "have you seen an uptick in charges filed alleging harassment?" - sometimes, people ask, specifically about sexual harassment charges being filed with the agency? I want to point out one thing: the fiscal year for the EEOC runs from the beginning of October to the end of September. That happens to conveniently coincide with when this issue took off in the press and the public. So, we are cautious about talking about our statistics until we are able to have a full assessment at the end of our fiscal year. And of course, there's typically some delay in charge filings, since individuals generally have up to 300 days to file a charge. So while our workload has increased on this issue for all of our offices, including the training I mentioned, so far, we have not seen a big increase in charges filed. I suspect there are many reasons for this - some of those I expect we will explore today.

With that I'll stop and turn it over to Commissioner Feldblum. But first, let me say one more time - thank you to everyone for being here today. We certainly did not expect, two years ago, to be asking all of you to come back again on this topic. Everyone who cares about how people are treated in their workplaces everyday owes all of you a debt of gratitude for the work you did beginning three years ago, and we are very grateful for your willingness to join us, again, today. I look forward to our discussion.