waiting game

After Four Years and One False Start, Discrimination Watchdog Gets New Boss

Sasha Neha Ahuja, incoming chair of the Equal Employment Practices Commission.
Sasha Neha Ahuja, incoming chair of the Equal Employment Practices Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the New York City Mayor’s Office

City officials ended a four-year vacancy by finally naming a chairperson to lead an independent workplace discrimination, diversity and sexual harrassment watchdog.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson jointly picked Sasha Neha Ahuja, a former Planned Parenthood official, to head the Equal Employment Practices Commission. The commission is charged with auditing the hiring and employment practices of more than 140 city agencies.

The duties of the EEPC, which came out of revisions to the City Charter in 1989, were expanded last year to include audits of each city agency’s sexual harassment prevention and response practices.

The body has been operating without a chairperson, who also serves as one of its five commissioners, since March 2015. City officials have offered no explanation for the appointment lapse, and insist the work of the commission wasn’t hampered.

“The work of the Equal Employment Practices Commission is vital to ensuring the diversity of our government, and their work has continued without delay,” said Laura Feyer, a City Hall spokesperson. “Sasha has centered her entire career around the issues of equity and justice, and we are happy to welcome her as chair.”

In early May, sources told THE CITY that officials were planning to name a different candidate as chair: Dianne Morales, CEO of the antipoverty nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods.

Morales has since said she dropped out of contention before a formal offer was made, citing plans to launch a new venture. City Hall officials noted Morales was never appointed.

Worked for Council and Clinton

Ahuja is chief of staff at the advocacy group Girls for Gender Equity. She previously worked at City Council as the deputy director of policy and innovation from under then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Ahuja also served as director of government relations at Planned Parenthood from 2012 to 2014, and worked on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“While the world may be only beginning to pay attention to the injustices that workers face every day, those of us who have been engaged in the movement know that fair and equal employment — including in New York City government — is no new fight,” Ahuja said in a statement. “I am eager to invigorate the work of the EEPC in this leadership role and especially in this movement moment.”

The EEPC has struggled to assert its authority over city agencies since its founding under the administration of Mayor David Dinkins.

But the commission played a role in exposing racial disparities in the hiring practices of the city’s fire department in the early 2000s.

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