Bloomberg Law
March 20, 2023, 9:40 AM

Punching In: EEOC Is Prioritizing AI, Pregnancy Discrimination

Rebecca Rainey
Rebecca Rainey
Reporter
Diego Areas Munhoz
Diego Areas Munhoz
Hill Reporter

Monday morning musings for workplace watchers.

Dispatches From California|Airport Workers Legislation

Rebecca Rainey: Artificial intelligence and preparing for discrimination claims under the recently enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act are just two of the big issues the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will be focused on in the coming months.

AI in particular may raise “some important equity concerns” when used to assist with hiring, HR, or monitoring employees’ productivity, Nakkisa Akhavan, an assistant regional attorney for the EEOC in Los Angeles, said during the American Bar Association’s Employment Rights and Responsibilities Committee conference in California last week.

“Because while these systems can increase efficiency and potentially actually be used to encourage diversity in hiring,” she said, “if they’re designed, if they’re used, if they’re monitored incorrectly, they can have discriminatory effects and can be a kind of a high-tech pathway to discrimination.”

The EEOC is doing some of this work with the US Department of Labor, Akhavan added, and is likely to come up as part of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ HIRE initiative, which aims to address barriers to equity in the hiring and recruitment process.

Meanwhile, employers and the public will have to wait until later this year to provide input on how the agency should implement the reasonable accommodation requirements set out under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Akhavan said a proposed rule will come out later this year, although the agency has already announced it will begin accepting PWFA-related complaints under the new law starting June 27.

EEOC Portal Woes: During the conference, one management-side attorney raised concerns with EEOC officials that they couldn’t access the agency’s portal, which provides information about charges filed against their clients.

Zhanna Meggison, a mediator at the EEOC’s office in Charlotte, N.C., said it wasn’t the first time the agency has heard about issues with the portal.

“We changed the whole structure about a year ago, and we’ve been trying to fix it,” she said.

READ MORE:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seal is displayed on a window at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 18, 2020.
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Diego Areas Munhoz: A bipartisan effort is underway to boost workforce development in the aviation industry as stakeholders claim labor shortages could be solved by more women and people of color in those jobs.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s funding legislation is up for reauthorization in 2023. Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who head the Senate subcommittee taking up the bill package, said during a hearing last week that increasing job-training programs for pilots, mechanics, and manufacturing workers is a key priority.

Previous versions of the legislation from Duckworth and Moran will be combined with other bipartisan proposals to increase funding for the FAA’s Aviation Workforce Development grants that award programs for future pilots and aircraft mechanics, Duckworth said.

“We will craft a proposal that combines the best elements of our respective bipartisan bills to ensure the forthcoming FAA reauthorization will empower our nation’s civil aviation system to build strong a strong pipeline of pilots and mechanics over the next five years,” she said.

Expanding and increasing funding for grants will help make the careers more accessible and shrink the high costs for training, which historically have hampered the ability for women and minority groups to pursue those professions, witnesses said at the hearing.

“One of the things that the development grants allow us to do is to capitalize on what already exists, expand it, deepen it, broaden it, and really have the opportunity to recruit and retain more women in aviation,” said Rebecca Lutte, associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Aviation Institute, and who served on the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board.

Cultural change is key to luring women into the aviation workforce, Lutte said. In a 2018 survey of female air industry workers, 71% of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or another professional aviation setting while 81% said they had witnessed it.

To that end, the board recommended in its 2022 report creating an industry-wide reporting program to redress gender bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment, Lutte said.

Beyond workforce development funding, lawmakers and industry leaders have proposed increasing labor standards for workers in the aviation industry. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill this month that would prevent airports from accessing federal funds unless airport service workers are paid at least a $15 minimum wage.

“Those individuals, the wheelchair attendants, the baggage handlers, the concession workers are overworked and underpaid,” Markey said at the hearing. “It’s time for us to recognize these hidden figures at airports who showed up throughout the entire pandemic.”

The bill, which is a priority for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), was introduced in the House by Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) and is endorsed by UNITE HERE and Service Employees International Union, which together represent over 80,000 airport service workers.

We’re punching out. Daily Labor Report subscribers, please check in for updates during the week, and feel free to reach out to us.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Rainey in Washington at rrainey@bloombergindustry.com; Diego Areas Munhoz in Washington, D.C. at dareasmunhoz@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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