Meanwhile, the EEOC's general counsel, Michael J. Connolly, has become involved in at least the third controversy of his tenure, this one having to do with assigning a personal aide to a case involving General Motors.

Connolly, who was an attorney for GM in Detroit before his appointment last fall, agreed to abstain from matters involving his former boss. And so, when GM and the EEOC began negotiating a settlement of a longstanding investigation, he assigned one of his special assistants, rather than the deputy general counsel, to fill in.

Connolly's two predecessors, Abner W. Sibal and Leroy Clark, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the action was improper, and suggested that a personal aide might not act with the same independence as the deputy. Connolly has declined to comment on the matter.

Connolly raised some eyebrows in April when he reassigned nine of his senior attorneys with two days' notice. The general counsel called the moves, some of which involved cross-country transfers, a reorganization. Critics called it political housecleaning.

Three months earlier, Connolly found himself awash in hot water when he spoke to a group of EEOC attorneys about "policy changes" in the agency that included narrowing the scope of actionable sexual harassment cases, discouraging age discrimination suits, deemphasizing class-action lawsuits and putting a stop to equal-pay-for-comparable-work investigations.

Connolly said it was all a misunderstanding, and he was really talking about his own "philosophies," not real policy changes. But attorneys at the meeting noted that the general counsel, who has the authority to decide which cases go into court, has wide latitude to exercise his "philosophies".