Testimony of Maya Wiley Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability on Employment Discrimination

View a PDF of the testimony here.






June 27, 2024

Chair Comer, Ranking Member Raskin, and members of the committee: My name is Maya Wiley, and I am the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a diverse coalition of more than 240 national organizations working to build an America as good as its ideals. They are ideals that the majority of people in America support — an America that values all her people and recognizes and reckons with its past in order to form a more perfect union and vibrant democracy for all time. We work to ensure that no group of people is excluded from its promise of having a voice in our government, real economic, educational, and societal opportunities, and the ability to understand and solve our problems together.

Since our founding in 1950, The Leadership Conference has helped to secure the passage of every major civil rights law, from the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many more. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the historic and groundbreaking Civil Rights Act of 1964, we remember that it survived a 60-day filibuster, the nation’s longest and most infamous, designed to block protections from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender, and religion in employment, education, health care, and much more. Seventy-three senators, a bipartisan group, understood the importance of this landmark legislation and ultimately passed it. Unfortunately, both since our founding and after passage of the Civil Rights Act, we have constantly had to defend the protections and progress we have made, which has been real and meaningful — but also insufficient.

The so called “war on woke” is a danger to democracy and to all the progress we have made as a society that has benefited us all. These forces of extremism have grown more bold in recent years. They pretend to be sensible defenders against “woke” radicals, but they are the radicals who are waging war on our civil rights. The attacks are based on misinformation, outright fear mongering, and the desire to take us back to the 1950s, when Black people were segregated, women denied equal rights, and LGBTQI people prosecuted for who they were. It is radical extremism to deny history, to try and block the collection of health data, and to block anti-discrimination protections the majority of people in this country believe in and support. It is a war on books by and about people of color and LGBTQI people, and it is a war on our rights to determine our own identities and celebrate them. It is a war on learning our history, including our history of slavery and racism, and a war on educational opportunities that develop the critical thinking skills and values of diversity that support a vibrant and inclusive education and democracy itself. It is also a war on private employers working to grow their businesses and the economy in proven ways, including DEIA programs, and it has become a call to gut government’s ability to play its critical enforcement of civil rights laws that have created progress for everyone, especially those most marginalized by historical and current day discrimination. The war on data collection and understanding and attending to disparities is tantamount to a war on science, inquiry, problem solving, and unity. Those who have declared a “war on woke” are waging a war on all of our civil rights and our democratic values, and they distract us from their extremism by sowing fear and division.

The facts are the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with other civil rights laws, helped to increase Black life expectancy. Civil rights laws and their enforcement are a factor in health outcomes.[1] We cut the seven-year gap in the life expectancy of Black Americans compared to white Americans to just over three years. That progress has stalled since 2012 and calls our attention to more work we must do to collect data, create programs, and develop resources and practices to ensure that we address gaps in life expectancy by race as well as other measures. While Black, Native American, and Pacific Islander women have significantly higher rates for pregnancy-related deaths, those who have declared a “war on woke” have demanded that local, state, and federal governments stop collecting data or developing programs to address real, group-based health disparities. That will take us backward, not forward.

Through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, enforcement against employment discrimination has helped to reduce the gender and racial pay gaps, yet we know we have significantly more work to do to continue to ensure equal pay for equal work and fairness in the workplace. Between 2010 and 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received one million complaints of discrimination. That means we need more attention to what is happening in the workplace, not less.

We have made meaningful progress on protecting people’s ability to embrace and celebrate their identities with dignity and without discrimination, including gender identity. The U.S. Supreme Court has, importantly, recognized that prohibitions against gender discrimination include a prohibition against employers firing or refusing to hire, or otherwise mistreat people, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. We know that transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face deep discrimination and are vulnerable to sexual violence and murder, yet data collection and attention to their safety is lacking. In fact, as we reported in our “Cause for Concern” report[2] based on federal law enforcement data, the rise in hate crimes and incidents — despite lower reporting from local law enforcement — demonstrates that our societal work to combat hate and discrimination not only continues but must be a rising priority to protect and preserve the gains we have made in making this union more perfect.

Today’s hearing demonstrates the critical need for a fact-driven and values-based discussion on how we enforce actively our civil rights laws and engage in meaningful discussion about expanding them to protect marginalized communities, including communities of color, women of all races, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities of all races, the elderly, religious minorities, and immigrants of color. This hearing was noticed the day after Juneteenth and is being held as we mark the 60th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Freedom Summer, Immigrant Heritage Month, and as most people celebrate LGBTQI Pride Month — and also as we mark the second anniversary of the Dobbs ruling.[3] These anniversaries and the persistence of racial, gender, and other disparities call us to elevate and confront critical realities.

First, as most people recognize, a diverse and inclusive workforce benefits everyone. It is consistent with our highest ideals that say everyone should have an equal chance to succeed — no matter their background. Diverse workforces foster innovation, productivity, and growth, benefiting employers and the economy as a whole. Diversity advances our global competitiveness, our national security, and the health of our democracy. And studies show that companies with diverse workforces are more innovative, productive, and profitable.[4]

Second, there is a compelling need for taking action that removes barriers to equal opportunity. Despite the progress our country has made, significant disparities persist in education, employment, health, housing, and business ownership. While the number of Black college graduates has increased, workplace segregation has worsened.[5] Black people remain in lower wage jobs and less lucrative industries compared to white people with similar levels of education.[6] Black and Latino workers face higher unemployment rates and lower wages than white workers.[7] And women and people of color remain underrepresented in leadership positions across industries.[8]

Third, DEIA programs are legal under Title VII. The Students for Fair Admissions[9] decision did not change the legal standards under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[10] Courts have previously upheld diversity statements, anti-bias training, aspirational goals, and targeted recruiting programs against a variety of challenges.[11] Several members of the EEOC have reaffirmed that these programs remain lawful.[12] So have numerous state attorneys general.[13] And many anti-equity cases are being thrown out of court.

Fourth, DEIA programs are popular. Business leaders and the general public[14] support DEIA policies in higher education, the workplace, government, and corporate America.[15] Prospective employees seek out employers that invest in DEIA.[16] And a majority of workers say focusing on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at work is a good thing.[17]

There would be consequences to abandoning the goal of diverse workforces and rolling back DEIA programs in the form of increased turnover, lower morale, public backlash, and more exposure to civil rights lawsuits.[18] It would worsen existing inequities and undermine our nation’s competitiveness and prosperity. For these reasons, we recently called on President Biden to vigorously defend DEIA programs, in a letter I have included with my testimony,[19] and we call upon Congress to do the same.

Finally, to ensure a diverse and inclusive workforce, Title VII must be protected and robustly enforced. It is important to preserve the EEOC’s updates to Title VII enforcement guidance, which help employers comply with civil rights laws, break down unfair barriers to opportunity, and ensure inclusive environments where everyone can succeed.

We continue to see the real-life consequences of discrimination and harassment on a constant basis to this day. In just the past 10 days, the EEOC settled a case where a Black employee was fired because of his own race and because he reported discrimination against women and Hispanic employees.[20] It settled another against a grocery store chain after a male supervisor subjected a female employee to a sexually hostile work environment, and the company violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.[21] And it resolved a suit against a trucking company that revoked an employee’s religious accommodation to have Saturdays off, likened him to a terrorist, and mocked his religious beliefs.[22]

The EEOC guidances include its recent one on harassment in the workplace,[23] which clarifies Title VII protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. We support[24] the guidance’s express recognition of the right of LGBTQI people to go to work as themselves, without discrimination and harassment. It follows the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision and subsequent rulings, which affirm that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is especially important as a record-breaking 580+ anti-LGBTQI state bills were introduced in 2023, many of which threatened workers’ rights to feel safe at work. The guidance also ensures workers of color, older workers, immigrant workers, survivors of gender-based violence, and others can do their jobs in a safe and respectful workplace.

Opponents of civil rights have always tried to reinforce barriers to opportunity for Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian American, and other people of color; women; LGBTQI people; and people with disabilities. Those who would turn back the hands on the clock of history to a time when discrimination ran rampant ask us to abandon our national principles, our national progress, and our shared future. We must remain steadfast in support for DEIA and keep working towards a more just and prosperous future for all.

Thank you for inviting me to testify today. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.


[1] Hahn RA, Truman BI, Williams DR. Civil rights as determinants of public health and racial and ethnic health equity: Health care, education, employment, and housing in the United States. SSM Popul Health. 2018 Apr;4:17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.10.006. PMID: 29250579; PMCID: PMC5730086.

[2] Cause for Concern 2024: The State of Hate (Updated May 2024), The Leadership Conf. on Civ. & Hum Rts. (May. 13, 2024), https://civilrights.org/edfund/resource/2024-the-state-of-hate-updated/#

[3] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 597 U.S. 215 (2022).

[4] Cedric Herring, Does Diversity Pay?: Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity, 74 Am. Soc. Rev. 208, 208 (2009); Cedric Herring, Is Diversity Still a Good Thing?, 82 Am. Soc. Rev. 868 (2017) (updating and reinforcing this analysis); Dame Vivian Hunt, et al., Why Diversity Matters?, McKinsey & Co. (Jan. 1, 2015), https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/why-diversity-matters; McKinsey & Co., Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters 20 (2020), https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/featured%20insights/diversity%20and%20inclusion/diversity%20wins%20how%20inclusion%20matters/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters-vf.pdf; David Rock & Heidi Grant, Why Diverse Teams are Smarter, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Nov. 4, 2016); William J. Holstein, Diversity is Even More Important in Hard Times, N.Y. Times (Feb. 13, 2009) (“[I]t’s difficult, if not impossible, for [a] homogenous board to challenge and offer different perspectives, unique experiences and the broad-based wisdom that makes the board, and therefore the company, as effective as they can be.”); Roger C. Mayer et al., Do Pro-Diversity Policies Improve Corporate Innovation?, 47 Fin. Mgmt. 617 (2018); Katherine W. Phillips, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, Sci. Am. (Oct. 1, 2014), https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/ (describing a 2006 study that found racially diverse groups were more thorough, careful, communicative, and open minded in an effort to reach consensus than racially homogenous groups); Rocío Lorenzo, et al., How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation (Jan. 23, 2018), https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/how-diverse-leadership-teams-boost-innovation.

[5] Ashley Jardina, et al., The Limits of Educational Attainment in Mitigating Occupational Segregation Between Black and White Workers, Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Research (Aug. 2023), https://doi.org/10.3386/w31641.

[6] Id.

[7] Rebecca Dixon & Amy Traub, Desegregating Opportunity: Why Uprooting Occupational Segregation is Critical to Building a Good-Jobs Economy (2024), https://www.nelp.org/app/uploads/2024/05/Desegregating-Opportunity-May-2024.pdf.

[8] Tina Shah Paikeday et al., How to Fix the C-Suite Diversity Problem, Harv. L. Sch. F. on Corp. Governance (Feb. 25, 2023),


[9] Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard Coll., 600 U.S. 181 (2023).

[10]  42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2012); 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (1991).

[11] See The Economic Imperative to Ensure Equal Opportunity, naacp legal defense fund (Feb. 1, 2024), https://www.naacpldf.org/wp-content/uploads/2024-02-01-Aff-Axn-Economic-Guidance-2.pdf.

[12] See Kalpana Kotagal, Workplace DEI Breaks Down Barriers With Flexible Benchmarks, Bloomberg Law (June 10, 2024, 4:30 AM), https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/workplace-dei-breaks-down-barriers-with-flexible-benchmarks.

[13] Attorney General Raoul Leads Coalition Of Attorneys General Defending Diversity Initiatives Against Unfounded Attacks, Off. of the Ill. Att’y Gen. (June 20, 2024), https://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/news/story/attorney-general-raoul-leads-coalition-of-attorneys-general-defending-diversity-initiatives-against-unfounded-attacks62024

[14] Most Americans approve of DEI, according to Post-Ipsos poll, The Washington post, (June 18, 2024, 6:00 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2024/06/18/affirmative-action-dei-attiudes-poll/.

[15] A recent Harris Poll commissioned by the Black Economic Alliance Foundation found that a majority of people surveyed believe that corporations should take active steps to ensure their businesses reflect the diversity of the country. Press Release, Black Econ. Alliance Foundation, New Poll by The Black Economic Foundation/The Harris Poll: Corporate Diversity Initiatives Overwhelmingly Supported Across Racial, Ideological, and Generational Lines (Aug. 23, 2023), https://foundation.blackeconomicalliance.org/press-release/new-poll-by-the-black-economicalliance-foundation-the-harris-poll-corporate-diversity-initiatives-overwhelmingly-supportedacross-racial-ideological-and-generational-lines/. A majority of workers think DEI is a good thing. Rachel Minkin, Pew Research Ctr., Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace (2023), https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/05/17/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-in-the-workplace/#:~:text=6%25). Americans’ top-of-mind reactions to the term affirmative action are also generally positive. Frank Newport, Affirmative Action and Public Opinion (Aug. 2020),

[16] See, e.g., Carolyn Crist, Half of job seekers say DEI is a major factor in deciding where to work, HRDive (Sept. 11, 2023), https://www.hrdive.com/news/workers-see-dei-as-a-major-factor-in-job-decisions/693260/.

[17] Minkin, supra note 14.

[18] See, e.g., Paige McGlauflin & Joseph Abrams, Companies are ‘diversity ditching’ which could have long-term consequences on employee retention, Fortune (July 31, 2023, 8:18 AM), https://fortune.com/2023/07/31/diversity-ditching-retention-labor-market-workforce/.

[19] Leadership Conference Letter to President Biden in Support of DEIA, The Leadership Conf. on Civ. & Hum Rts. (June 18, 2024),https://civilrights.org/resource/leadership-conference-letter-to-president-biden-in-support-of-deia/#.

[20] Press Release, Iron Hill Brewery to Pay $115,000 in EEOC Race Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit, U.S. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n (June 18, 2024), https://www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/iron-hill-brewery-pay-115000-eeoc-race-discrimination-and-retaliation-lawsuit.

[21] Press Release, Weis Markets to Pay $75,000 in EEOC Sexual Harassment, Disability Discrimination Suit, U.S. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n (June 18, 2024), https://www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/weis-markets-pay-75000-eeoc-sexual-harassment-disability-discrimination-suit.

[22] Press Release, Wheeler Trucking to Pay $65,000 to Resolve EEOC Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit, U.S. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n (June 21, 2024), https://www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/wheeler-trucking-pay-65000-resolve-eeoc-discrimination-and-retaliation-lawsuit.

[23] Enforcement Guidance on Harassment in the Workplace, No. 915-064, U.S. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n (Apr. 29, 2024), https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/enforcement-guidance-harassment-workplace.

[24] Comments in Support of the EEOC’s Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Workplace Harassment, The Leadership Conf. on Civ. & Hum Rts. (Nov. 1, 2023), https://civilrights.org/resource/comments-in-support-of-the-eeocs-proposed-enforcement-guidance-on-workplace-harassment/.