By William Wiley, April 19, 2017
Over drinks and dinner the other night, our favorite time to pontificate on the fate of the civil service, Deb, Ernie Hadley, and I came up with the following fascinating facts:
- There are five Commissioners at EEOC. Each is appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serves a fixed term from which they essentially cannot be removed during the term. All five cannot be from the same political party.
- Currently, one of the five positions is vacant. The term of another expires in ten weeks. The term of yet another expires on July 1, next year. That means that within the next 15 months, President Trump will have the opportunity to name three new EEOC Commissioners, a voting majority.
- The President is free to select whomever he thinks would be a good Commissioner. If I were the President I would certainly want to appoint individuals as Commissioners who shared my view of civil rights law. For example, if I strongly felt that sexual orientation was a form of sex discrimination, as does the Seventh Circuit, then I would appoint individuals who hold the same view. On the other hand, if I felt that was not the case, as at least two other circuit courts have concluded, then I would appoint individuals with that view.
- EEOC has taken the position for many years that its only real controlling court is the US Supreme Court. In other words, it does not feel itself bound by the rulings of the individual circuit courts.
- As EEOC interprets the civil rights laws for the purpose of federal employee discrimination complaints, whatever it says about sexual orientation as a protected category applies to all federal agencies regardless of contrary rulings by the individual circuit courts.
- Until now, the Commission has held, as explained by Deryn above, that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of prohibited sex discrimination. However, nothing stops a bunch of new Commissioners from moving in the other direction.
- In fact, as far as I can tell, nothing requires the President to appoint a full complement of five Commissioners. He could appoint a Republican of his choosing, and if confirmed by the Senate, there would be a voting quorum even though the other two seats – seats that would have to be filled by members of another party – remain vacant.
Here at FELTG, we have our own strong opinions as to how this law should be interpreted. But none of us has been appointed to anything in a very long time, so our opinions are worth exactly what you are paying for them. The reality of our business, though, is that protections from sexual orientation discrimination in the federal civil service as a form of sex discrimination are in a precarious position. Stay tuned to this space for any updates that come along. Wiley@FELTG.com