A federal civil rights agency allegedly disinvited a conservative speaker from testifying at a hearing last month on the civil rights implications of the coronavirus pandemic over the “aggressive tone” of his written remarks, in which he criticized hiring practices such as racial quotas as discriminatory.
Commissioner Janet Dhillon of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) originally invited Devon Westhill, president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), a conservative think tank, to testify at an April 28 hearing.
The EEOC, which works to enforce federal civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, said the hearing would consider the impact of the pandemic on workers, the difficulties faced by employers in navigating potential employment discrimination issues raised by the pandemic, and future potential challenges. The commission would hear from a “wide variety of experts on job discrimination,” the commission said.
However, the Republican commissioner later disinvited Westhill just days before the hearing after viewing his written remarks, Westhill said. A member of Dhillon’s staff told Westhill that she took issue with his “aggressive tone” and “name-checking” of specific companies in his criticism of their hiring practices, Westhill claimed.
The decision to rescind his invitation came as a “shock,” said Westhill, who served as the top civil rights official at the Department of Agriculture immediately prior to joining the CEO.
In his prepared written remarks, Westhill said that federal, state, and local governments along with nonprofits, businesses, and social institutions are “damaging” the possibility of removing all impediments to equal opportunity.
“Their choice of poison is race and ethnicity-based solutions to disparities we see that have been, we are told, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and made more evident by the racial discord we have been recently facing,” Westhill wrote. “The ultimate goal with these efforts is to achieve equal outcomes rather than to ensure equal opportunity — the latter being, of course, the remit of this agency. The result has been discrimination against and hostility toward certain identities that are disfavored. Examples abound that the COVID-19 pandemic is being used as an excuse to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex.”
Westhill also criticized Coca-Cola, United Airlines, and the NASDAQ stock exchange for moving to implement race and sex quotas in “all manner of employment matters.” Coca-Cola this year implemented a diversity quota for the outside counsel it retains, saying it will only hire law firms that commit to providing 15 percent of billed time from black attorneys, higher than the percentage of African Americans in the U.S. population.
“My testimony was not aggressive. It was straight talk about the reality of the failure of our governments and other American institutions to treat everyone equally. It should be welcomed, not silenced, by a high government official whose job it is to enforce our civil rights laws,” Westhill said in a statement.
“Commissioner Dhillon should be ashamed and those who supported her nomination should be furious,” he added.
The move to disinvite Westhill comes on the heels of other actions the EEOC has taken under the Biden administration to curb the influence of former members of the Trump administration at the agency.
Sharon Gustafson, appointed by Trump as EEOC general counsel, made waves in March when she penned a letter refusing the Biden administration’s request that she resign. She was immediately fired, prompting questions about the legality of her termination as well as a spirited condemnation of the president’s decision from one of Gustafson’s EEOC colleagues.
Less than two weeks after Gustafson’s abrupt firing, the EEOC sent out an agency-wide email that included a quote from notoriously anti-Semitic author Alice Walker.
The EEOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Commissioner Janet Dhillon as a Democrat. Dhillon is a Republican.
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