Working Together Towards Equality In The Workplace

kemp-fullEVAN J. KEMP, JR.

Ninth Chairman of the EEOC, March 8, 1990 – April 2, 1993

Evan J. Kemp, Jr. was named Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by President Bush on March 8, 1990. He was first nominated as an EEOC commissioner by President Reagan on March 10, 1987, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on June 19, 1987 for a term expiring July 1, 1992.

Chairman Kemp came to EEOC as one of the nation’s leading advocates for persons with disabilities. During his first two and a half years, then Commissioner Kemp played a major role in promoting credible and effective enforcement of the rights of all individuals under the equal employment laws EEOC enforces. As a member of the Bush Administration, Chairman Kemp worked closely with the White House in its consideration and ultimate endorsement of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Chairman Kemp earned his B.A. degree from Washington and Lee University in 1959 and his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1964. In 1967, he joined the Securities and Exchange Commission and became an authority on equity funded insurance products. In 1980, Chairman Kemp was selected to head the Ralph Nader sponsored Disability Rights Center, where he was a tireless spokesperson for the civil rights of disabled people and for an end to paternalism that too often keeps disabled people dependent. In his efforts to educate national policy makers on the importance of equal opportunity and self-determination for disabled people, Chairman Kemp worked to build coalitions with groups representing racial and ethnic minorities, women and older persons working toward similar goals.

Recognizing that manufacturers of products for disabled people, including wheelchair makers, often ignored the actual needs of disabled users, Chairman Kemp spearheaded a group of investors who purchased a small wheelchair company. Within 10 years the firm became the largest home health equipment company in the United States. He attributes the company’s success to its involving people with disabilities in designing and marketing the company’s products.

Chairman Kemp died on August 12, 1997.

A letter from Evan J. Kemp, Jr.

Chairman of the EEOC, 1990-1993

When I became chairman in 1990, I was fortunate to take the reins of a stable, well-run agency, thanks to the skillful management of the previous chairman, Clarence Thomas.

It soon became clear that the biggest challenge I would face was how to operate in a climate in which the Democratic Congress was not sympathetic to the problems of a federal agency run by a Republican administration. During my three years as chairman, I pressured Capitol Hill to provide adequate funding so that the EEOC could enforce the laws entrusted to it. Despite my efforts and the cooperation of OMB, Congress never appropriated to the EEOC the money necessary to fulfill its law enforcement responsibilities. In fact, Congress failed 10 out of 11 years to give the EEOC the funding requested by the administration! As a result, we knew we had to focus the limited resources where they were most needed. We downsized headquarters 15 percent so that all available resources could be directed to the field where EEOC investigators continued to process charges at a tremendous rate.

One of my goals as chairman was to depoliticize the activities of the EEOC as much as possible, again following in the footsteps of Clarence Thomas. The civil rights laws under the jurisdiction of the EEOC should be enforced without regard to political views. To achieve that goal I selected career staff, rather than political appointees, as directors of all the operational offices.

As we faced the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, carrying with them a broad range of new enforcement responsibilities, it was necessary to devise a plan for training field staff. In 1991, we began the first significant staff training since 1987. Over the months of May and June 1992, the EEOC conducted the single largest training effort in the agency’s history.

Passage and implementation of the ADA occurred during my term. I was honored to be invited to participate in the bill-signing ceremony with President Bush. The ceremony on July 26, 1990, was the largest signing ceremony in U.S. history. Weeks earlier, the White House staff had been reluctant to schedule the ceremony because, they asserted, there simply was not enough staff to organize an event that would involve so many people. They also said they feared some of the disabled guest might become ill or even die in the July heat. We replied that people with disabilities, just like other people, were accustomed to dealing with extreme heat and could be expected to take care of themselves. “And what if it rains?” we were asked. We responded that people with disabilities can wear raincoats, use umbrellas and, if all else fails, come out of the rain just like anyone else.

On that sunny day, more than 3,000 people cheered, wept and hugged each other as they witnessed the signing of the act that guaranteed that they were, at last, citizens with equal rights, in a country where their government wanted them to have the opportunity to participate in a contribute to all aspects of public life.

My years at the EEOC were full of triumphs as well as disappointments. But through it all, the one constant was the excellence and dedication of the staff. Chief among them was the late James Troy, who directed the Office of Program Operations. His management abilities and people skills were unsurpassed.

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