Former Justice Dept. Deputy Chief Now Leads Contractor Watchdog

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

Ondray T. Harris, former deputy chief of employment litigation at the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, is now leading a Labor Department office that audits federal contractors for workplace nondiscrimination and affirmative action compliance.

Harris began serving as director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs effective Dec. 10, a DOL spokesman told Bloomberg Law. The position doesn’t require Senate confirmation, though some have  argued that it should. Harris joined the Labor Department in late spring, serving as a senior adviser at the Employment and Training Administration.

As the DOJ’s deputy chief of employment litigation between June 2005 and May 2007, Harris litigated cases on behalf of the federal government and military personnel. He also directed and reviewed investigations for cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Harris was later confirmed by the Senate to serve for three years as director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service. There, he oversaw 10 regions providing conciliation and conflict resolution services to communities where tensions arose from differences in race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. In this role, Harris has reportedly said it’s “headquarters’ job to rein in the career employees out in the field” who acted “as advocates instead of mediators.”

He then became executive director of the Public Employee Relations Board in Washington. The five-member board is a quasi-judicial, independent agency that resolves labor disputes between District of Columbia agencies and unions. Harris resigned from that position in May 2013.

In his resignation letter, Harris said he was stepping down because he opposed what he considered to be discriminatory comments by certain board members regarding his hiring of employees who are white, conservative, or pregnant. The D.C. government, however, contended that Harris resigned because he violated a city requirement that officials maintain residency in the district.

Since then, Harris was a legal adviser and consultant until he joined the Labor Department this year. Prior to entering public service, Harris was a partner at LeClairRyan, where he practiced management-side labor and employment law.

He earned a law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in history from Hampden-Sydney College.

Harris Inherits Shrinking OFCCP

Harris takes the helm of a DOL office that has been shrinking its workforce over the past six years and is facing a potential budget cut. The Senate has already directed the OFCCP to submit a plan to “consolidate and right-size the agency.” The office has six regional offices and about 49 district and area offices.

The OFCCP enforces Executive Order 11,246, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The agency also provides similar protections to disabled individuals and covered military veterans under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 4212 of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act.

During the Obama administration, the agency received criticism from some employer representatives and Republican lawmakers for what they viewed as burdensome rulemaking and lengthy, deep-dive audits of contractor employment data, especially with respect to pay practices. The office annually audits about 1 percent to 2 percent of about 200,000 federal contractor locations, though that number has been declining.

Worker advocacy and civil rights groups have applauded the agency’s efforts to combat systemic discrimination. The agency collected a record amount in back pay and interest from discrimination settlements with contractors in fiscal 2017.

The OFCCP this year weathered a possible merger with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That controversial proposal died in Congress this past fall, but could conceivably arise again in the future.

— Ben Penn contributed to this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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