Jenny Yang, a civil rights and employment lawyer hailing from New Jersey, was sworn in Monday to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, returning it to full strength after a yearlong vacancy.
Yang, 43, a Democrat, replaces Stuart Ishmaru, who left the commission in April 2012, when he was tapped to head the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. She will serve out Ishmaru’s five-year term, which ends July 1, 2017.
She becomes the first female Asian-American commissioner of the agency charged with enforcing federal workplace anti-discrimination laws through investigations, litigation and outreach.
EEOC chairwoman Jacqueline Berrien said Yang’s "expertise in employment discrimination law and experience as a litigator will be great assets to the agency, and I look forward to working with her and my other colleagues … to promote equal opportunity in the workplace."
Yang has practiced civil rights and employment law for most of her 17-year career. She was a trial attorney in the employment litigation section of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 1998 to 2003, when she left government service to join Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll in Washington, D.C., in its civil rights and employment practice group.
Yang worked on several notable cases, chiefly Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), a massive class action alleging wage discrimination against the retail giant on behalf of an estimated 1.5 million female employees who allegedly were passed over for raises and promotions.
She assisted in writing the U.S. Supreme Court brief and preparing partner Joseph Sellers, head of the practice group, for oral arguments. In June 2011, the court struck down the suit in a 5-4 decision, reversing the class certification granted below.
Yang worked on a wage-and-hour suit in the Western District of Arkansas on behalf of 8,000 chicken-processing workers in 11 states seeking unpaid overtime. The case, In Re Pilgrim’s Pride Fair Labor Standards Act Litigation, MDL 07-cv-1832, settled in February 2010 for $10 million.
And she worked on a sex-discrimination suit by 29,000 female employees of Boeing Co. Inc. in the Western District of Washington, which settled in July 2004 with the company agreeing to pay between $40.6 million and $72.5 million to the plaintiffs. She consulted with the plaintiffs’ experts about what issues to address in their reports and reviewed defense expert reports.
Yang also headed Cohen Milstein’s hiring and diversity committee.
"I think she’s going to be just terrific," says Sellers, who has worked closely with Yang since she started at the firm.
She "appreciates the broader consequences of legal arguments … on businesses and people," he adds.
Yang, who was nominated last August and unanimously confirmed on April 25, joins Berrien, a former associate director and counsel to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Constance Barker, who previously represented small businesses at a Mobile, Ala., firm and served as general counsel to Mobile County Public Schools; Chai Feldblum, a former Georgetown University law professor; and Victoria Lipnic, previously an assistant secretary of labor for employment standards.
By law, the commission may include no more than three members from the same political party at one time. Berrien and Feldblum are Democrats; Lipnic and Barker are Republicans.
Yang was unavailable for comment Tuesday but said earlier, "I am honored that President Obama nominated me, and the Senate confirmed me, to serve as a commissioner of the EEOC. It is a privilege to work with so many talented and dedicated colleagues to ensure equal opportunity for all."
Yang, a Cornell University graduate, earned her law degree from New York University School of Law in 1996. She clerked for a year for U.S. District Judge Edmund Ludwig in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In 1997 and 1998, she was a New York University Community Service Fund attorney fellow at the National Employment Law Project.
A Livingston native, she is the daughter of retired state Workers’ Compensation Judge Sue Pai Yang, who earlier was a deputy attorney general and private practitioner.