EEOC Chief Leaves Behind Transformed Agency

By Staff Report

Aug. 8, 2006

After five years as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Cari Dominguez leaves behind an agency that employment lawyers call more activist and effective.

An EEOC union leader, however, says that reforms instituted during Dominguez’s tenure have reduced agency resources and undermined service to discrimination victims.

Dominguez will step down as EEOC chair August 31, the end of her five-year term. Under her leadership, the agency has upgraded its technology infrastructure, improved relationships with business and labor constituencies, expanded outreach and education programs and expedited cases, says one attorney.

“She’s leaving very big shoes to fill,” says Gerald Maatman Jr., a lawyer with Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. “The agency has become much more visible, much more approachable and much more responsive.”

For instance, cases that used to languish for years are now handled much more quickly. In the process, Dominguez has changed the agency’s disposition into that of an activist enforcing Title VII anti-discrimination laws, according to Maatman.

“You have the EEOC out there in the fray much more than it was before,” he says.

The agency has also chosen its battles carefully in an attempt to send signals to entire industries. For instance, it settled a $54 million sexual discrimination lawsuit against Wall Street investment firm Morgan Stanley two years ago. It also is putting an increased emphasis on systemic discrimination.

“It seems that they’re focusing more on impact cases than run-of-the-mill discrimination cases,” says Jonathan Greenbaum, a partner at Nixon Peabody.

But that philosophy doesn’t mean that the EEOC is turning to the courtroom first.

“They’ve made a concerted effort to moderate claims before the parties get entrenched in their positions,” Greenbaum says.

In the announcement of her departure, the agency said that Dominguez has put in place a five-point plan that emphasizes prevention, resolution, mediation, “strategic enforcement and litigation” and organizational excellence.

But Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals No. 216, argues that the agency is wobbling as Dominguez departs.

“The things we have seen her do in the name of reform have set the agency back,” Martin says.

Dominguez introduced inefficient and costly call centers and ushered in a severe staffing shortage, says Martin, who asserts that “the rank-and-file (staff) is angry” about working conditions.

Having a new chair take over the commission “gives us an opportunity to focus on these issues and rectify them,” Martin says.

In a statement, the EEOC said that Dominguez’s overhaul of the agency’s field structure increased frontline staff and expanded its presence in high-growth areas. It also touted a “historically low inventory of pending charges due to prompt and proficient resolution” and “an increase of merit findings with record benefits.”

Mark Schoeff Jr.


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