woman smiling.

Ensuring dignity in the working world

As chief of staff to the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Elizabeth Fox-Solomon ’06 is a key player in addressing employment issues and promoting the EEOC’s mission to make workplaces free of harassment and discrimination.

A lot of employers go wrong without ill intent, she says, “much of what happens in workplaces is the result of people trying to do the right thing but not succeeding, or they are just ignorant of the law that applies.” But there are also plenty of real horrors: racist graffiti in restrooms and on bulletin boards, sexual assault, nooses at construction sites. “If the EEOC is going to sue you, it’s most likely a truly egregious cases,” she says. 

The agency responds to complaints, but also works to prevent violations through outreach and education for workers and employers. Among her accomplishments, as part of developing the EEOC’s strategic enforcement plan, she organized a listening session last summer in Buffalo, focusing on racial and economic justice issues and how the agency can help address them.  

That was a welcome return to Buffalo, where Fox-Solomon worked for five years as a senior trial attorney in the agency’s local office. In addition to advocating for individuals whose workplaces had turned toxic, she led cases with nationwide implications. Chief among them was a $4.9 million, five-year consent decree she won against United Parcel Service in a case alleging religious discrimination; the parcel service had insisted on enforcing its long-held rule requiring employees in public-facing jobs to be clean-shaven. The effect was discriminatory against observant Muslims, Sikhs, Rastafarians and others—and after the decree, UPS made significant changes to that policy and soon eliminated it entirely. 

“I love the aspect of advocating for clients,” Fox-Solomon says. “Typically, it’s our office against an army of the biggest law firms in town that are paid tons of money. These are not cases that a private attorney would usually take. Often it was a low-wage worker; they can’t pay a lawyer, and there’s not a big payout in the end.”  

Fox-Solomon says she’s always been drawn to employment law and its intersection with civil rights and economic justice work. After a few years in private practice, she clerked for a state Supreme Court Appellate Division justice, a short-term posting that turned into six years. “I loved that job,” she says. “It was like being in law school again.” But when the EEOC’s Buffalo office posted an opening for a trial attorney, she didn’t wait: “That was just a dream-come-true job.” 

Now, after a few years in our nation’s capital, she’s more committed than ever to the EEOC’s goals. It’s a relatively small agency, she says, with about 2,000 employees, “but every person here just bleeds the mission. They go to work every day because they believe in the work that we do.  

“The whole mission of our agency is to seek justice for America’s workers,” she says. “The right to work in a place where you’re treated with dignity and respect and able to compete fairly to earn a livelihood for your family, that’s fundamental to the American way of life.”

And though she says she often finds herself in situations where she’s the only lawyer not from an Ivy League school, she’s proud to call herself a UB Law graduate. “I owe my career to UB School of Law,” Fox-Solomon says. “I had an incredible time there, and some of my best friends came from UB. I got an incredible education, and it really does give you the opportunity that you can be anything and go anywhere.”