The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said its former top attorney “lacks the authority to speak for the agency” but has not pledged to formally investigate her over letters to employers suggesting the commission would take enforcement action on employee abortion travel benefits.
The Littler Workplace Policy Institute sent a letter to the EEOC on Oct. 21 requesting that current legal counsel investigate its former general counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson after she sent a letter to some employers that “suggests that she has any legal authority and implies is acting with the support of the Commission.”
Littler called for the agency to “formally investigate” whether Gustafson’s actions “constitute a violation of ethics rules or regulations.” In an Oct. 28 response letter obtained by Bloomberg Law, EEOC legal counsel Carol R. Miaskoff said Gustafson does not speak for the agency, but did not mention a possible investigation.
“Miss. Gustafson is not an employee of the EEOC and lacks the authority to speak on behalf of the agency,” Miaskoff said. “Accordingly, your letter should be understood as representing your own views, not those of the Commission.”
Miaskoff also pointed to the EEOC’s guidance on pregnancy discrimination and noted that discrimination claims can be fact-specific.
Gustafson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the EEOC’s letter. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
She was fired by the Biden administration in 2021 after refusing to resign from her post. He is currently in private practice in Virginia, according to his website.
In a copy of one of Gustafson’s letters dated Oct. 11, she argues that employers could be discriminating on the basis of pregnancy or disability if they offer abortion travel benefits but do not offer equivalent benefits for other medical conditions.
Hundreds of employers in states where abortion is now illegal after the US Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization announced travel coverage for abortion care.
Littler said Gustafson is “misleading and intimidating employers who legally provide travel benefits under their health plans for those who need medical care that is not available in their own states.”
—With the assistance of Rebecca Rainey.