Top Labor Lawyer Nominee to Introduce Herself to Senate, Public

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By Ben Penn

Kate O’Scannlain’s testimony before the Senate labor panel Nov. 15 can provide insight into how the crucial Labor Department solicitor’s office may be transformed under President Donald Tump.

The solicitor nominee, a Kirkland & Ellis partner, enters her confirmation hearing as a relatively unknown practitioner in her field. She hasn’t litigated many high-profile cases and has yet to say how she would interpret the 180 federal labor and employment laws that would be under her purview as the DOL’s chief legal officer and third-ranking official.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will have a limited time for questions, with three other nominees sharing the stage with O’Scannlain. The hearing gives O’Scannlain her first opportunity to showcase her enforcement and regulatory views. She’ll likely be confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate to a post that would grant her independent authority to sue employers.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. EST.

The HELP Democrats will be using the proceeding as a test for whether O’Scannlain would fulfill the mission of the department.

“Senate Democrats plan to focus on the Trump administration’s broken promises to workers and whether O’Scannlain will fall in line with President Trump or stand up to him when he is putting corporations before working families,” a Democratic HELP Committee spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law via email. “We will likely focus on O’Scannlain’s background as a corporate lawyer and highlight the importance of the role, including as the chief defender of the overtime rule.”

The committee’s Republican office didn’t immediately provide a comment. But the first solicitor in the George W. Bush administration vouched that O’Scannlain will have a smooth transition to the public sector.

“As Kate leaves the private sector and goes to the Labor Department, she’s going to have a new client. She’s no longer going to be representing corporations; she’s going to be representing the Labor Department,” Eugene Scalia, who represented management before presiding over the solicitor’s office from 2002-2004, told Bloomberg Law. “Any good lawyer is going to recognize that change. She’s going to see her role as advancing the department’s mission and the priorities established by Secretary Acosta.” Scalia now works for law firm Gibson Dunn, which defends businesses.

Acosta will be on the other side of the Capitol on Nov. 15, testifying before the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

O’Scannlain has practiced at the large law firm Kirkland & Ellis’s Washington office since 2005. More recently, she’s been advising major corporations on the labor and employment aspects of mergers and acquisitions. Her financial disclosure to the Office of Government Ethics listed more than 80 clients, including behemoth investment firms the Blackstone Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and Bain Capital.

In addition to filing litigation against employers, the solicitor is charged with overseeing some 500 government lawyers, crafting regulations, and developing policy positions for the DOL.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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