Stuart J. Ishimaru has announced that he will resign as a member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the end of April 2012. Ishimaru has served as an EEOC commissioner since 2003, making him the longest serving member of the commission.
His second term as an EEOC commissioner was set to expire on July 1, 2012. According to a statement released by the EEOC, Ishimaru did not provide a specific reason for his early departure. He is one of three Democrats serving as a member of the EEOC and was originally appointed to the commission by President George W. Bush.
“I thank Commissioner Ishimaru for his outstanding service to this agency and to the nation. His accomplishments as a member of the commission and acting chairman have been exceptional,” EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien said in a written statement. “He has been a tremendous colleague, and we will miss his fervent commitment to civil rights law enforcement and myriad contributions to the work of the commission.”
Ishimaru served as the EEOC’s acting chair from January 20, 2009, until April 7, 2010, when President Barack Obama appointed Berrien as the agency’s chair. Ishimaru’s departure will leave the EEOC with four commissioners—two Democrats and two Republicans. By law, the EEOC is supposed to have five commissioners, and three can belong to the same political party as the president.
The political makeup of the EEOC once Ishimaru leaves will change the dynamic of the commission, according to sources familiar with the issue. Democrats will no longer hold the numerical advantage, which should make it harder for the commission to approve policies and guidances supported by the White House.
Sources say Ishimaru’s departure could accelerate the EEOC’s timing on releasing two highly anticipated guidance documents that will affect employment-related background checks. On April 2, 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) noting that the EEOC was preparing to issue two guidances on how employers should use credit history and criminal history data when checking the backgrounds of job applicants.
According to the chamber’s letter, the EEOC is planning to approve “these significant guidance documents without making them available for public comments and without seeking a review by the OMB.”
Some observers have speculated that the commission wanted to move quickly and approve the guidance documents before Ishimaru left. The U.S Chamber’s letter asserted that the OMB needed to consider intervening and require the EEOC to submit the guidance documents for review and public comment before releasing them.
Ishimaru has received widespread praise for his advocacy of several employee rights issues. At several congressional hearings, he testified in support of passing the Employee Nondiscrimination Act. In addition, Ishimaru spoke during a Senate committee hearing to voice his support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and he stated that the federal government needed to bolster the wage discrimination protections provided by the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.