April 01, 2022
  • Kalpana Kotagal pioneered tactic to increase diversity in film productions
  • She also represented Walmart workers in landmark sex bias case
  • Confirmation would create Democratic majority at anti-bias agency

President Joe Biden is nominating Kalpana Kotagal, a civil rights lawyer who helped develop a novel tactic for increasing diversity in Hollywood productions, for a seat on the U.S. agency that enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws, the White House said on Friday.

Kotagal, a partner at prominent plaintiffs' law firm Cohen Milstein in Washington, D.C., would give Democrats a 3-2 edge on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the ability to adopt various pro-worker policies supported by the Biden administration.

Kotagal did not respond to a request for comment.

Joseph Sellers, co-chair of Cohen Milstein's civil rights and employment practice group, in an interview said Kotagal is a "brilliant choice" for the EEOC post. She not only has years of experience representing workers in discrimination cases but has also advised businesses on diversity and inclusion policies, Sellers said.

"I think she's going to bring some very balanced and valuable perspectives about the realities of the workplace," he said.

Amid the #MeToo movement, Kotagal and other lawyers developed the concept of an "inclusion rider," which is a provision in actors' contracts requiring studios to hire more diverse casts and crews.

Kotagal has represented workers in high-profile sex bias class-actions against AT&T Mobility and Sterling Jewelers, and in the landmark case Dukes v. Walmart. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 2011 ruling in that case said a nationwide class of 1.5 million female Walmart employees was improper because of regional variations in company policies.

Cohen Milstein represents thousands of Walmart workers who subsequently filed smaller class actions or individual cases against the company.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kotagal would replace EEOC Commissioner Janet Dhillon, a Republican, whose term expires in July. Dhillon was appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump and served as the agency's chair until Biden took office last year.

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