Leah Barkoukis| Posted: Mar 15, 2021 5:56 AM
Source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Biden fired Equal Employment Opportunity Commission general counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson on Friday after she declined to resign under pressure from the White House.
“At the time I was nominated, I was asked if I would commit to do my best to fulfill my four-year term, and I answered yes,” Gustafson said in a letter to Biden. “Unless prevented from doing so, I intend to honor that commitment. I have confidently given this advice to countless embattled clients of the last 25 years: hold your head high, do your best work, and do not resign under pressure. In solidarity with them, I will follow that advice.”
Gustafson was appointed in March 2018 by former President Trump and was confirmed by the Senate in August 2019 to a four-year term, which Biden wanted cut short. The EEOC is an independent agency within the federal government.
“So far as I know, no previous General Counsel has been fired for being appointed by the wrong political party,” Gustafson wrote.
Andrea Lucas, who was also appointed to the EEOC by Trump, blasted the White House’s decision.
“I find the action taken today by the White House against our independent agency to be deeply troubling, a break from long-established norms respected by presidents of both parties, an injection of partisanship where it had been absent, and telling evidence of what ‘unity’ actually means to this President and his Administration,” Lucas tweeted.
“That, however, does not seem to apply to Sharon Gustafson. And if such a principle does not apply to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—the very agency charged with preventing and remedying discrimination and retaliation—where else does it apply?” she continued. “In the days leading up to the President’s decision to fire Ms. Gustafson, a report and related materials dealing with religious discrimination were removed from the EEOC’s website shortly after inauguration.”
At the beginning of that report appeared letters from Lucas and Gustafson. In it, Lucas said she was “deeply concerned that today, religious liberty has become a disfavored or second-class right in many areas of our society and culture.”
On Twitter, she said the administration’s move “proves” her point. “The actions taken by this Administration are quite telling as to their priorities . . . and one can safely assume that combating religious discrimination—or retaliation, frankly, given Ms. Gustafson’s firing—is not one of them,” she pointed out. “Instead, it appears that this Administration intends to achieve unity through uniformity by removing all dissenting actors, thought, and content from the federal government, the public square, and the marketplace.”
Though Biden’s request offered no reason for wanting her to resign, Gustafson had been known for being a strong defender of religious liberties.
“Your request that I resign provided no reason for the request, and I do not know which of your advisors recommended that you make the request,” she said. “But please be aware that there are those who oppose my advocacy on behalf of employees who experience religious discrimination and on behalf of constitutional and statutory protections for religious entities. I would like to continue my work on the EEOC’S mission to prevent and remedy illegal employment discrimination.”
In response, Gautum Raghavan, the deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, told her that she would be terminated, effective by the close of business on Friday.
Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx blasted the White House’s decision.
“This is a pattern. President Biden calls for the end to ‘partisan warfare,’ only to turn around and demand that Senate-confirmed officials resign so he can make room for his left-wing friends,” she said in a statement. “President Biden should take a note from General Counsel Gustafson, who stuck to her commitment and refused to cave to partisan pressure. This unprecedented firing of an honorable public official which occurred just hours after she was asked to resign is unwarranted and should be immediately rescinded. General Counsel Gustafson should be reinstated so she can complete her four-year term, independently and free from undo political influence.”
Biden pulled a similar stunt with Peter Robb, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Like Gustafson, Robb was in a Senate-confirmed position to serve a four-year term at an independent agency when Biden fired him.