Victoria Lipnic. (Courtesy photo.)
Victoria Lipnic, the new acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suggested that her agency will focus on cases involving age discrimination and equal pay while exploring ways to foster job growth in companies.
"It's a new day, and where we can help foster employment opportunity and economic growth, that is where we will be focused," she declared.
In her first public appearance in her new post, Lipnic spoke at a labor and employment law presentation at the Chicago offices of Seyfarth Shaw. An EEOC commissioner since 2010, she said she had booked the presentation before the Trump administration named her acting chair on Jan. 25.
Seyfarth Shaw labor and employment partner Gerald Maatman joined her in the presentation.
A former assistant secretary of labor before joining the EEOC, Lipnic had been a frontrunner at one time to head Trump's Labor Department.
Asked about how the EEOC would change under the Trump administration, Lipnic said she believes more will remain the same than will change. "We are an enforcement agency," she said, "and the EEOC is committed to its core values and mission, to enforce civil rights laws in the workplace."
She then added, "President Trump has made it very clear that he is interested in jobs, jobs, jobs," and that her agency will incorporate that attitude into its policies.
Currently there are four commissioners—three Democrats and Lipnic, a Republican, along with one vacancy. Also, one Democratic commissioner's term ends on July 1, and Trump will presumably appoint Republicans to both vacancies, giving the GOP control of the agency.
The general counsel's position is also vacant, after David Lopez left the agency at the end of the Obama administration. The GC is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Lipnic said the EEOC filed only 86 lawsuits last year under the previous administration, which continued a trend of a steady decline in number since 2002. Under the Bush administration, she said 350 to 400 lawsuits per year were filed.
She did talk about a few changes. She said she wants the commission to have an opportunity to see and vote on more litigation issues. She believes too many decisions on litigation have been delegated to the general counsel in the past seven years.
Other trends to watch:
This year is the 50th anniversary of Age Discrimination in Employment Act, she said, "and we will be doing a number of things related to that. It should get a high profile this year."
Lipnic noted that in the past the EEOC has not brought many equal pay cases, but "I am very interested in equal pay issues. It's something I would consider a priority," she said.
She wants a re-evaluation of the costs and benefits of the modified EEO-1 report, a detailed compliance survey that employers must fill out. "It's something I look forward to having a conversation with my colleagues about," Lipnic said.
She questioned if the commission has been overly committed to nationwide, systemic class actions. "It's important we do systemic cases," she said, "but we have to be more strategic about them," including prosecuting cases regionally rather than nationwide.
On other issues, Maatman discussed major trends that are covered in a paper he authored, the 2017 Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, which has now been published in book form. He said plaintiffs attorneys are leaning toward more wage-and-hour cases.
If a chief compliance officer has $1,000 to spend, Maatman said, "I'd spend $999 of it looking at how people are paid. You have to get it right—what you pay them and how you determine that."