Labor & Employment

Ex-EEOC lawyer is making 'highly questionable' assertion about abortion travel benefits, Littler Mendelson says

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The former general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is “misleading and intimidating” employers who provide travel benefits for women traveling to obtain abortions, according to a letter by Littler Mendelson’s Workplace Policy Institute, the law firm’s government affairs arm.

The Workplace Policy Institute is asking the EEOC to investigate whether the former official, Sharon Fast Gustafson, is violating ethical rules or regulations, report Bloomberg Law and Law360.

The Littler letter says Gustafson has sent letters to “a large number of U.S. employers,” including many Littler clients. In the letters, Gustafson makes a statement that “broadly insinuates” that the EEOC has charged or will be charging employers supporting abortion access, the institute says.

Gustafson wrote that employers may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if they provide travel benefits for abortions while not providing equivalent benefits for employees who want to conceive a child or maintain their pregnancies. She warned that the employers could face allegations of pattern-or-practice discrimination by EEOC commissioners or lawsuits by employees seeking the value of equivalent benefits that they didn’t receive.

Gustafson also warned the abortion-only travel benefits could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide equivalent benefits to those with impairments of the reproductive system or impairments caused by pregnancy. And she said the benefit could also have a disparate impact on employees who are less likely to have abortions because of their religious beliefs.

The Littler letter maintains that Gustafson’s pregnancy discrimination claim is “highly questionable.”

Gustafson declined to comment on the Littler letter in response to a Bloomberg Law request. She did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal email seeking comment.

Gustafson worked in the general counsel position during the Trump administration and was fired in March 2021 by President Joe Biden after she refused to resign.

Gustafson also warned about abortion travel benefits in a letter to the editor to the Journal published in the October-November 2022 magazine. Gustafson’s former position with the EEOC is not mentioned, however.

See also: “Some BigLaw firms will cover travel costs for abortions” “Does right to travel for abortion include right to avoid penalty? Kavanaugh concurrence doesn’t go so far”

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