House votes to repeal Trump-era rule on EEOC conciliation

5 minute read

The headquarters of The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
  • January rule requires EEOC to disclose case information to employers accused of discrimination
  • Democrats said rule would discourage participation in EEOC probes, spur more litigation
  • Party-line vote sends proposal to President Biden

(Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted along party lines to scrap a Trump-era Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule that would overhaul the pre-litigation settlement process, including by giving employers more information about discrimination complaints.

The Democrat-led House voted 219-210 in favor of a joint resolution to repeal the January rule, sending it to President Joe Biden for approval. The Senate narrowly approved the resolution in May.

The rule would require the EEOC to provide information to employers upon initiating the settlement, or "conciliation," process, including a summary of the facts of a case, the identities of witnesses and alleged victims, and the legal basis for a finding that discrimination has occurred.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

The commission also would be required to disclose whether it planned to pursue relief on behalf of a class of workers, rather than individual employees who filed complaints with the EEOC.

The Republican-led commission said the changes would encourage settlements by allowing employers to weigh the merits of bias complaints early on in the process. Employers agreed to settlements only 41% of the time between fiscal years 2016 and 2019, according to the EEOC.

But many Democrats and other critics of the rule said it would divert the EEOC's limited resources away from combating discrimination and delay cases, including by creating a new avenue for time-consuming appeals.

In a statement after Thursday's vote, EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said repealing the rule would restore the commission's flexibility to tailor the conciliation process to the circumstances of each case.

“EEOC is committed to resolving cases in conciliation whenever possible as one of the most effective means to remedy and prevent discrimination in the workplace," said Burrows, who was appointed chair by Biden earlier this year.

Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia and the chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said during floor debate on Thursday that the conciliation process was meant to be informal and confidential.

But the January rule would deter participation in EEOC investigations by workers, he said, and incentivize businesses to focus on whether the commission complied with the rule's various requirements rather than whether unlawful discrimination had occurred.

"This will allow unscrupulous employers to drag out the conciliation process possibly for years, and even avoid accountability altogether," Scott said.

The top Republican on the House committee, Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, countered that the changes were long overdue after the conciliation process had proved ineffective for decades.

Repealing the rule "harms the victims of discrimination, encourages the EEOC to pursue needless, combative, and expensive litigation, and turns the EEOC back into a politically driven runaway bureaucracy," said Foxx.

In an April letter, a coalition of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business, urged members of Congress to keep the EEOC rule on the books. The rule would raise the likelihood that conciliation will produce settlements, meaning more workers would receive restitution sooner, the groups said.

(NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows.)

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.