Unions Seek to Intervene, End Oracle’s Attack on Civil Rights Protections

Trump Administration Continues to Demonstrate It Will Not Protect Workers

Washington, D.C. — The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and United Steelworkers (USW) have pushed ahead with their effort to defend the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ (OFCCP) authority to ensure federal contractors comply with civil rights protections against an unprecedented legal challenge brought by Oracle. In a filing submitted to the court, the unions rebut Oracle’s flawed arguments, which seek to strip the government of its critical authority, and the unions advance their arguments that the court should rule in favor of the Department of Labor. CWA and USW are jointly represented by Democracy Forward, the National Women’s Law Center, and Massey & Gail.

OFCCP’s authority has consistently been upheld by courts across the country, is grounded in statute and Executive Order, and contracts. Indeed, Oracle has signed at least 138 contracts with the federal government over the last 15 years — in each was a provision stating that Oracle would be subject to OFCCP’s enforcement authority. Oracle only seeks to challenge the agency’s authority now that the agency has initiated an enforcement action against it for alleged employment discrimination.

“Oracle is hard-pressed to offer a sound legal justification for its dangerous attempt to strip the Department of Labor of its ability to ensure federal contractors comply with longstanding civil rights protections,” said Democracy Forward Counsel Karianne Jones. “Our filing on behalf of CWA and USW urges the court to reject Oracle’s challenge, ensuring that employees of federal contractors are protected against discriminatory practices.”

After OFCCP found that Oracle had discriminated against women and people of color in 2017, underpaying them by some $400 million, OFCCP pressed to require the multi-billion-dollar company to make back payments to its employees. Oracle responded, however, by filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of the very compliance measures to which it had itself contractually agreed — measures that have been in operation for more than 50 years.

“Recent demonstrations in cities across America have thrown into sharp relief how much racism and discrimination are still real and pressing problems for our society,” USW International President Tom Conway and USW International Vice President Fred Redmond said jointly. “All workers deserve government agencies that stand on their side and protect their rights. As a union, the USW will never stop fighting until we have true justice and equality in our workplaces and communities.”

If successful, Oracle’s lawsuit would restrict OFCCP’s role as a key federal enforcement agency and undermine workers’ protections against hiring and pay discrimination. Restricting the agency’s authority to enforce anti-discrimination laws could have sweeping ramifications for the ability of workers employed by federal contractors to get meaningful remedies like back pay and reinstatement when harmed by discriminatory practices.

In March, CWA and USW filed a motion to intervene in the suit brought by Oracle for fear that the Trump administration would not adequately defend OFFCP’s critical enforcement authority. While the government took no position on the motion to intervene, Oracle opposed it, arguing, in part, that the Trump administration is an adequate representative of workers’ interests. But the administration’s repeated attempts to weaken or dismantle OFCCP and turn its back on workers suggest otherwise. Indeed, it has:

  • Proposed to eliminate OFCCP by merging it with the EEOC
  • Shifted the office’s priorities from enforcement to encouraging voluntary compliance
  • Slashed OFCCP’s staffing and investigations
  • Tightened control over the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board, which hears appeals of OFCCP enforcement actions
  • Proposed rules that limit OFCCP’s enforcement actions to the benefit of employers

In April, a bevy of states, groups, and individuals filed briefs urging the court to reject Oracle’s attempt to strip OFCCP’s enforcement authority. Two briefs were submitted:

  • The States’ brief, signed by District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, highlighted how “stripping OFCCP of its administrative enforcement powers as advocated by Oracle America, Inc. (Oracle) — including its ability to seek back pay and other make-whole relief to deter unlawful discrimination — has the potential to disrupt equal employment and anti-discrimination enforcement in Amici States and nationwide.”
  • The advocates’ brief, signed by 12 former senior government officials who led federal civil rights enforcement efforts and 53 workers’ rights and legal associations, explained how OFCCP’s “compliance efforts and ability to bring enforcement actions are vital to securing equal access and economic opportunity for millions of working people.”

OFCCP is an agency housed within the Department of Labor that is responsible for ensuring that employers that do business with the federal government comply with nondiscrimination laws and regulations. OFCCP describes itself as one of the “premier civil rights agencies in the federal government.”

The reply in support of the unions’ motion for summary judgment was filed on May 29, 2020, in the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia. Read the full filing here.

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

The USW represents 850,000 men and women employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in health care, public sector, higher education, tech and service occupations.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents working men and women in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, and manufacturing.

The National Women’s Law Center fights for gender justice — in the courts, in public policy, and in our society — working across the issues that are central to the lives of women and girls. We use the law in all its forms to change culture and drive solutions to the gender inequity that shapes our society and to break down the barriers that harm all of us — especially those who face multiple forms of discrimination, including women of color, LGBTQ people, and low-income women and families. For more than 45 years, we have been on the leading edge of every major legal and policy victory for women.

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