By holding a series of town-hall-style meetings, officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have attempted to follow through on a White House pledge to provide fair and equal access to jobs for all Americans.
The EEOC and DOJ held the “listening sessions” in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans and Oakland, Calif., during October and November 2009. The objective of the sessions was to gather information and feedback on a set of proposed regulations to enforce the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA).
President George W. Bush signed the ADAAA into law in September 2008. The measure was designed to make legislative fixes after several court rulings limited the scope of protections offered under the original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The EEOC released the proposed regulations on Sept. 23, 2009, and the two-month public comment period on the proposed changes ended on Nov. 23, 2009. The EEOC and DOJ scheduled four listening sessions during the comment period, with the final session held in New Orleans on Nov. 20. Dozens of attorneys, business owners and advocates for disabled workers signed up for five-minute slots during the day-long events to address a panel of top-level officials from the EEOC and the DOJ.
Acting Vice Chair Christine M. Griffin and Commissioner Constance Barker represented the EEOC at the New Orleans session, while Samuel Bagenstos, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, Mazen Basrawi, counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, and John Wodatch, chief of the disability rights section of the civil rights division, represented DOJ.
“For too long, Americans with disabilities have been pushed to the rear of the hiring line. The EEOC-DOJ town hall listening sessions, in concert with other administration measures, should position workers with disabilities for a fair chance at a job with public- and private-sector employers,” said Griffin in a prepared statement.
During the four sessions, attorneys and employers expressed concerns that the changes made by the ADAAA and the proposed regulations would generate a flood of discrimination claims and lawsuits filed under the ADAAA.
“I don’t buy that argument, and don’t think we will see any substantial increases in the number of claims,” Stuart Ishimaru, acting chair of the EEOC, told reporters in late October during a break at the town hall session in Philadelphia. “What we’re trying to do here is get better and bigger cases brought in to address systemic issues.”
The comments and testimony gathered during the meetings will be analyzed along with written comments provided by dozens of businesses, advocates for workers with disabilities and employer groups. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) was among the groups that submitted written comments to the EEOC on the proposed rule changes.
Ishimaru said that the sessions offered the public an opportunity to provide direct feedback and become engaged in helping to create federal rules and regulations that affect their jobs and businesses.
“The EEOC continues pressing to empower individuals with disabilities to participate to the fullest extent possible in the American workplace,” said Ishimaru.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.