The U.S. Senate on Dec. 12, 2013, confirmed Chai Feldblum to a second term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) only after Democratic leaders lowered the vote necessary to consider presidential appointments.
In a mostly party-line vote of 54-41, the Senate agreed to give the EEOC's first openly gay member five more years on the commission, despite the objections of traditional values organizations. The only Republicans to break from the GOP caucus in favor of Feldblum's confirmation were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of whom have supported LGBT rights.
SHRM President Henry G. “Hank” Jackson urged Feldblum's confirmation in a Dec. 9, 2013, letter to Senate leaders.
“While SHRM has not always agreed with Commissioner Feldblum’s perspective … we have always found her to be a thoughtful and constructive arbiter of equal opportunity issues in the workplace,” Jackson wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Feldblum has worked with members across the political spectrum within the commission and has taken steps to facilitate a fair hearing of all stakeholder viewpoints.”
Reid orchestrated the vote, which would not have happened had the Senate this week not invoked cloture to proceed to the nomination. Feldblum's first term expired July 1, 2013. Had the Senate not confirmed her, she would have stepped down at the end of this congressional session.
In 2009, President Barack Obama first nominated Feldblum for the EEOC, which enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination. She faced a difficult confirmation in the Senate: One or more unidentified senators placed a secret hold on her and four other EEOC nominees. Anti-gay groups openly attacked her. Traditional Values Coalition leaders said she had “no respect for religious liberty and advocated for bizarre and culture-altering policies.”
In a speech to the Human Rights Campaign in October 2009, the president said, “If any of my nominees are attacked not for what they believe but for who they are, I will not waver in my support because I will not waver in my commitment to ending discrimination in all its forms.”
In March 2010, Obama placed Feldblum on the EEOC using a recess appointment. The Senate then confirmed her that December.
While on the commission, she coordinated a unanimous decision in Macy v. Holder that interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender people. The commission reasoned that the existing prohibition against gender bias in the workplace applied to transgender people.
From 1988 to 1991, Feldblum was legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. As a law professor representing the Epilepsy Foundation, she helped write the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. She was also the legal director of the Campaign for Military Service, a group that unsuccessfully fought against the enactment of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the early 1990s.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has a bachelor’s from Barnard College.
The EEOC has five presidentially appointed members. If reconfirmed, Feldblum would serve as EEOC commissioner until July 1, 2018.
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.