Jacqueline Berrien's Ambitious Agenda

Informer Special Report | 12/8/2010, 5:10 p.m.
Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has a "sense of urgency"...
Jacqueline Berrien Courtesy Photo

Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has a "sense of urgency" about its work - and it's showing.

Since taking office last April, Berrien has moved swiftly to reverse the federal agency's reputation as inefficient in keeping track of claims individuals file with it and ineffective in safeguarding workers' rights, according to a profile in this week's National Law Journal.

She's also pushed the EEOC more aggressively attack discrimination cases, particularly those that involve charges of racial and color-based discrimination, and to pursue cases that show evidence of systemic discrimination at work. This year the agency has reached multi-million-dollar settlements in class-action cases with Outback Steakhouse of Florida, the Albertson's grocery chain, and Wal-Mart Stores, among others.

Berrien, formerly Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has increased the federal agency's small 2,200-person workforce as a first step to attacking its record backlog of more than 86,000 cases and preparing to deal with the nearly 100,000 complaints of workplace discrimination that were filed this year. That figure - a record for the agency - is likely evidence that the nation's three-year-long economic crisis has sharply intensified relations between workers and employers in large and small companies. It is also very likely that the agency will continue to get a heavy volume of complaints for some years to come.

It remains to be seen, however, if Berrien and the three other EEOC commissioners that President Obama nominated with her last year, will be there beyond the end of 2011. The others are, Republican Commissioner Victoria Lipnic, P. David Lopez, a career EEOC attorney who serves as its General Counsel, and Chai Feldblum, a former Georgetown University law professor. Republican senators last year blocked their appointments to a full five-year term; they now serve as recess appointees. WI