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Workers: Who is Kalpana Kotagal? Indian American lawyer defending disenfranchised workers – Times of India


Even as Kamala Harris matched a 191-year-old record of casting a tie-breaking vote as vice president in the US Senate to back the nomination of Kalpana Kotagal as a member of the equal employment opportunity commission, a federal agency; the spotlight is now on the Indian American lawyer. A well-known civil rights lawyer, Kotagal had been nominated by US President Joe Biden last year as the nominee for commissioner on the equal employment opportunity commission and her long overdue confirmation is being seen as a victory for all workers including those most marginalised. Kotagal has a track record of defending workers, civil rights organisations, women, and other disenfranchised people in employment and civil rights actions.
“Kotagal’s bold and inspiring work as a leading civil rights lawyer earned her an outstanding reputation. She is a leading voice in the national conversation on equity and inclusion. For her exemplary qualifications and trailblazing career, Impact was proud to unequivocally support her nomination. Now, we extend enthusiastic congratulations for her confirmation to the EEOC, where we know she will fiercely defend the civil rights of workers of all backgrounds in the United States,” Neil Makhija, president of Indian American Impact, a leading Indian American and south Asian advocacy organisation, said in a statement last week after the US Senate finally confirmed Kotagal to serve as a commissioner of EEOC.
Last year, after her nomination was announced by White House, Impact had said in a statement that Kotagal has been at the forefront of efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring practices. “Ms Kotagal is an exceptionally talented litigator who has been a fierce advocate for employment equity and civil rights,” Makhija had said. “She has broken barriers as one of the first South Asian women to become a law partner in the plaintiffs’ bar and has been a leading voice in the national conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion. We are proud to give our emphatic support to her nomination and look forward to celebrating her confirmation,” he added.
Currently a partner at law firm Cohen Milstein’s civil rights & employment practice and co-chair of the firm’s hiring and diversity committee, Kotagal, who is the daughter of immigrants from India, plays an active role in the investigation and development of new matters for the civil rights & employment practice. She is co-author of the ‘Inclusion Rider’, referenced by Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand in her 2018 best actress acceptance speech. The Inclusion Rider has since been adopted by leaders across industries, including the Recording Academy, which announced the use of the Inclusion Rider in the production of the 2022 Grammy Awards.
A highly-acclaimed employment and civil rights plaintiffs’ litigator, Kotagal represents women and other disenfranchised people in employment and civil rights class actions, involving often cutting-edge issues related to the Title VII, Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act, as well as wage and hour issues. A graduate from Penn Law, University of Pennsylvania, Kotagal delivered the prestigious Penn Law Commencement address in 2019.
The National Employment Lawyers Association in the US, too, celebrated the confirmation of Kotagal as the newest commissioner of the EEOC. “Ms Kotagal’s extensive record of fairness and justice will strengthen the EEOC as it continues its mission to protect workers from discrimination,” the organisation said in a statement last week. “Kalpana has been an inspirational champion for workers’ rights,” said NELA executive director Jeffrey Mittman, “and her long-awaited confirmation is a well-deserved recognition of her efforts. We congratulate Kalpana and look forward to working with her and the full complement of EEOC commissioners to continue pursuing equity for those suffering injustices in the workplace, and clarify the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers alike.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, executive vice president for government affairs at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued a statement on the long overdue confirmation of Kotagal. “Kalpana Kotagal is an exceptionally qualified civil rights lawyer and a longtime champion for working people. Her experience addressing systemic discrimination will make her an outstanding member of the EEOC. Kotagal has dedicated her career to helping vulnerable workers — advocating for pregnant workers, representing thousands of women who experienced discrepancies in pay and promotion, and securing support for disabled veterans who faced discrimination in the workplace.
“With the addition of her expertise and a full five-member commission in place, we urge the EEOC to move swiftly to address the many issues facing working people. From combating harassment to protecting LGBTQ+ workers to fighting for pay equity, there is a lot of work to be done. We look forward to collaborating with Kotagal and her colleagues to uphold civil rights laws in the workplace.”


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