Sherrilyn Ifill Testifies Before Congress about Workplace Protections

NAACP LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill is one of four witnesses at today’s hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives on “The Regulatory and Enforcement Priorities of the EEOC: Examining the Concerns of Stakeholders.”  The hearing is being held by the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and began at 10 a.m. View the archived webcast here.

In her testimony, Ifill tells Congress that the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides an opportune time to focus on our nation’s continued commitment to eradicating discrimination in the workplace.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in employment on the basis of race and color and other bases, and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints of employment discrimination. 

LDF has had the unique opportunity to observe the work of the EEOC over five decades.   LDF litigated many of the seminal cases initially interpreting Title VII, and in the first year of the EEOC’s operation, LDF filed nearly 1,000 complaints of racial discrimination with the agency.   In addition to litigating our own extensive employment discrimination docket over the years, LDF has been a steadfast supporter of the EEOC’s enforcement activities and agrees that its role is absolutely critical to ensuring equal opportunity in the workplace.  Unfortunately, employment discrimination against African Americans still exists; LDF points to our recent settlement against the clothing retailer Wet Seal, where executives directed senior managers to get rid of African-American managers and replace them with white employees for the sake of its “brand image.”  

LDF praises the EEOC’s continued initiative—adopted during the George W. Bush administration—to focus on systemic discrimination cases, allowing the agency to devote its resources to remedy workplace discrimination on a large scale.  Similarly, we support the agency’s reliance on disparate impact liability as a method for proving discrimination, noting that disparate impact is “now more important than ever, especially given that subtle and sophisticated types of discrimination are more commonplace in today’s society than instances of overt racial animus.” 

Finally, we applaud the EEOC’s updated guidance on employers’ consideration of arrest and conviction records, noting that communities of color are disproportionately affected by incarceration rates which have more than tripled since the 1980s and are largely attributable to increased incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. The guidance tells employers how use of criminal history information can violate Title VII. 

“The EEOC’s work on the guidance is not only commendable, it is also consistent with the growing national and bipartisan consensus that we need to rethink our criminal reentry systems to ensure that millions of Americans who have a criminal record, but who have paid their debt to society and are qualified for work, are not unjustly denied the opportunity to reintegrate back into society by the misuse of criminal background checks,” Ifill said in her testimony.  “To allow the presence of an arrest or conviction record to bar an individual from meaningful employment forever, would deny to millions that most powerful and important American opportunity—a second chance.  For the Legal Defense Fund, ensuring that those with criminal records are not arbitrarily barred from employment opportunities is a key focus of our employment discrimination work. We regard the EEOC’s leadership in this area as just one example of how the Commission continues to carefully and thoughtfully recalibrate its regulatory and enforcement agenda to respond to trends and shifts in employment discrimination.”