Director of Office of Presidential Personnel
The White House
On behalf of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), and our 4,000 circuit, state, and local affiliate members across the country, we write to express our strongest possible recommendation that Cathy Harris be nominated to fill the vacancy of the position of Chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board–the independent federal agency that protects federal employee workers from any abuses within the merit system.
NELA is the largest professional membership organization in the country comprised of lawyers who represent workers in labor, employment, and civil rights disputes. Founded in 1985, NELA advances employee rights and serves lawyers who advocate for equality and justice in the American workplace. Our members litigate daily in every federal district and circuit, and in the administrative courts, affording NELA a unique perspective on how employment cases actually play out on the ground and an accurate understanding of the profound impact of the courts on the daily lives and the rights of working people.
NELA offers its full and enthusiastic support to Cathy Harris for the position of Chair of the United States Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Ms. Harris is an experienced practitioner in the niche field of federal-sector employment law, and has been litigating on behalf of federal employees for over two decades before the MSPB, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in the federal courts. She is well known for her expertise in representing federal employees. She also has exhibited a long and laudable commitment to class action work on behalf of federal employees, including successful representation of thousands of African-American male employees of the Social Security Administration. Ms. Harris also achieved what we believe is the first EEOC class action liability finding on behalf of a class, in this instance female DEA Special Agents, who were deprived of foreign assignments. She is tenacious, still litigating breach and damages claims for both of those classes after decades of committed representation of these federal employees.
Ms. Harris is well respected at the MSPB, having litigated and resolved many complicated cases there over the years. She pioneered the pro bono program that offered legal assistance to the many federal employees who are unable to afford counsel after they have lost their jobs. Ms. Harris’ advocacy on behalf of LGBT federal employees and their surviving spouses before the MSPB was part of the large effort that eventually overturned the unconstitutional provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act. She has also been lauded by the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for her work on behalf of LGBT employees, notably representing a VA psychiatrist who was disciplined for displaying a picture of her wife on her office desk. OSC has used Ms. Harris’s work as a model for other practitioners.
Ms. Harris has been recognized for her exceptional work in this field by receiving the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association Attorney of the Year award for her work in representing federal employees. She is an experienced public speaker and is a popular presenter at NELA and other employment law conferences. She has a deep commitment to civil rights work. Her passion and commitment for the rights of federal employees will be inspiring to the federal workforce that looks to the MSPB as a forum of justice and fairness.
NELA has the highest regard and esteem for Cathy Harris. NELA’s foremost goal with respect to the administrative courts is to ensure that when everyday working people seek justice, their cases will be heard by those who are fair-minded, independent, and have the deepest understanding of both the law and of the lives of individuals who turn to the legal system when things go wrong. Ms. Harris would bring that depth and breadth as the Chair of the agency that exists to protect the rights of federal employees. As the MSPB Board members adjudicate cases for employees at an appellate administrative level, we are confident that she will be an excellent Board member and leader of the Agency.
Finally, Ms. Harris’s nomination would fulfill an important and longstanding NELA goal which is also a stated goal of the Biden Administration; namely ensuring diversity of the professional backgrounds of members of the federal bench and administrative courts by nominating lawyers who have represented Americans in all walks of life. We believe that a federal judiciary that reflects professional and experiential diversity will ensure a stronger and fairer judiciary.
We strongly urge you to nominate Cathy Harris as the Chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board.