President Donald Trump’s pick to become the general counsel for an agency that upholds worker rights testified Tuesday during her confirmation hearing.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. It’s a critical agency since it helps workers fight when they have such allegations. Sharon Gustafson was nominated to serve as general counsel of the agency March 19.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the confirmation hearing to determine whether her nomination should be approved. Senators on the committee asked a variety of questions on how she plans to better protect disfranchised communities, and what she plans to do with a large backlog of cases.
“My clients have reflected our American melting pot,” Gustafson told the committee. “They’ve been black, white, Latino, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, male, female, gay, straight, able-bodied, and disabled. In addition to the many employees I have represented over the years, I have also represented employers.”
Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed concern over how she has approached some prior discrimination cases. She fears that gay, women, immigrant, and other groups of workers won’t be properly protected given her past and what she sees as discriminative policies coming from the administration.
Gustafson responded to the concerns by promising to uphold the law as written. The EEOC mission of protecting workers against discrimination, she noted during the hearing, is something she highly believes in, and will work to enforce based on the facts of a given case and what the law says.
The EEOC General Counsel serves a four-year term after being appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The person serving in the role is responsible for conducting litigation on behalf of the commission to obtain relief for victims of employment discrimination and to ensure compliance with the law.
Gustafson has practiced law before the commission and the federal courts during a variety of employment-related disputes over the last 26 years. She first started practicing employment law after graduating from law school in 1991. She has since worked for a handful of law firms and has also launched a solo practice.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard from a plaintiff she represented during the 2015 case Young v. UPS. Gustafson was able to win legal protections for pregnant workers nationwide in that case. The Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association named her lawyer of the year for her work in civil rights and equality in 2014.
The Senate will have to hold a full vote if the committee approves her nomination.