The U.S. Senate today confirmed two appointments to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, approving nominees heralded by LGBT activists as important allies at the federal agency.
The Senate vote, taken early Wednesday morning, saw Charlotte Burrows confirmed as an EEOC commissioner by a vote of 93-2, while David Lopez was confirmed to a second term as EEOC general counsel by a party-line vote of 53-43, reports the Washington Blade.
"LGBT Americans are better off now that David Lopez has been confirmed to a second term as top litigator for the EEOC," said Tico Almeida, the founder and president of LGBT organization Freedom to Work. "David Lopez initiated historic litigation earlier this year on behalf of transgender employees who were unlawfully fired or treated horribly at work, and during his second term leading the EEOC's litigation office, we are hopeful that this outstanding lawyer will begin to rack up significant legal victories on behalf of LGBT Americans."
Freedom to Work, a Washington, D.C.-based group that focuses on LGBT employment nondiscrimination, campaigned heavily for the confirmation of Lopez and Burrows. In the days leading up to Wednesday's Senate vote, Freedom to Work staffers and supporters launched a targeted phone-banking campaign, reaching out to voters who supported President Obama and connecting them with their U.S. senators, urging them to vote in favor of both candidates' confirmation. The efforts produced hundreds of phone calls in favor of Burrows and Lopez from constituents in North Carolina, who contacted Sen. Kay Hagan, and West Virginia, where voters contacted Sen. Joe Manchin, as well as calls to the offices of Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Ultimately, all six senators, all Democrats, voted in favor of both candidates.
Earlier this year, President Obama announced Burrows and Lopez as nominees to fill upcoming vacancies on the powerful EEOC, a federal oversight agency that handles complaints — and sometimes files lawsuits — alleging employment discrimination. Both nominees have long histories supporting and litigating on behalf of progressive causes, including LGBT rights.
Burrows, an attorney who had been a staffer for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, was nominated to serve as a commissioner by President Obama in September, while Lopez's renomination as EEOC general counsel was announced in October. As general counsel (a position he's held since 2010), Lopez "runs the Commission's litigation program, overseeing the agency's 15 Regional Attorneys and a staff of more than 325 lawyers and legal professionals who conduct or support Commission litigation in district and appellate courts across the country," according to the EEOC's website.
A longtime litigator and stalwart defender of civil rights — including immigrants' and migrant workers' rights and the rights of the disabled — Lopez was critical in the EEOC's September decision to file two federal lawsuit against U.S. companies that allegedly fired transgender women after they announced their intent to transition on the job.
And while those lawsuits were the first filed by the federal government on behalf of transgender women, the EEOC, under Lopez's guidance, has filed a number of lawsuits and amicus briefs supporting an expanded, LGBT-inclusive definition of the groups protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That inclusive history brought criticism of Lopez's nomination during his initial confirmation hearing, in which Republican senators on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee alleged that Lopez's EEOC looked for discrimination where employees had not alleged any such behavior took place.
A more direct attack on the candidate's progressive credentials came from the right-wing antigay hate group Family Research Council, which used a November fundraising email to blast Lopez's nomination as "a dagger aimed at freedom of religion." Ultimately, FRC's transphobic scare tactics were unsuccessful, as the Democrat-controlled Senate affirmed both candidates.
"Charlotte Burrows and David Lopez have proven that they have the temperament, experience, and judgment to serve on behalf of America’s work force, and understand the need for LGBT Americans to be protected from discrimination in their workplaces," said David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign. "We congratulate both Charlotte Burrows and David Lopez on their confirmation by the U.S. Senate and look forward to working with them in ensuring all Americans are protected from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."