Biden taps lawyer known for arbitration cases for top EEOC post

3 minute read

The seal of the The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seen at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
  • Karla Gilbride has won key cases involving mandatory arbitration
  • EEOC general counsel can sue employers for discrimination
  • Biden fired Trump-era GC last year

(Reuters) - President Joe Biden will nominate Karla Gilbride, a high-profile civil rights lawyer whose work has focused on combating companies' use of mandatory arbitration to handle workers' and consumers' legal claims, to be the top lawyer at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the White House said on Friday.

Biden's intent to nominate Gilbride, who works at nonprofit law firm Public Justice in Washington, D.C., to be general counsel of the EEOC was announced in a release. She must be confirmed by the evenly divided U.S. Senate.

Gilbride did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An EEOC spokesman declined to comment.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Public Justice in a statement said Gilbride "has a proven track record of advocating for commonsense legal protections for workers who have been cheated or discriminated against, and those whose civil rights and civil liberties have been wrongly violated."

The EEOC enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination. The general counsel's office investigates worker complaints and can sue companies that refuse to settle bias claims found to have merit.

Biden removed Trump-era EEOC General Counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson from the post in March 2021. Gwendolyn Young Reams, who has worked at the agency for 50 years, has served as acting general counsel since then.

Gilbride joined Public Justice in 2014 and since then has won a string of victories in cases involving increasingly common agreements between companies and workers or consumers to bring legal claims in private arbitration rather than court.

Critics of mandatory arbitration say it is more favorable to businesses and discourages class actions. But business groups have maintained that arbitration is a cheaper, more efficient alternative to traditional litigation.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court last month unanimously agreed with Gilbride that companies waive their ability to push lawsuits into arbitration if they delay in moving to do so.

The ruling marked a rare instance in which the court's conservative majority limited the ability of companies to force cases into arbitration.

Gilbride also represented Amazon.com Inc warehouse employees and workers at Tyson Foods Inc and Smithfield Foods Inc meat processing plants who sued the companies for allegedly failing to protect them amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The companies denied wrongdoing.

Before joining Public Justice, Gilbride worked at plaintiffs' firm Mehri & Skalet and at nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates.

Read more:

8th Circ. leery of Tyson's bid to keep COVID claims in federal court

Arbitration waiver doesn't hinge on prejudice, U.S. Supreme Court says

Biden names 50-year EEOC vet acting general counsel after firing Trump appointee

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.