The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is mourning the loss of its former chair, Jacqueline Berrien. Ms. Berrien passed last Monday, with President Barack Obama and former colleagues praising the late leader for her invaluable contributions to civil and employment rights.
Berrien’s career began when she clerked for Alabama’s first federally-appointed Black judge, U.W. Clemon. In 1987, she began work as a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. The Oberlin College and Harvard Law School graduate then joined NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund as an assistant counsel.
After a short stay with the Ford Foundation as a Program Associate, Berrien returned to the LDF as an associate director-counsel. In 2009, President Obama nominated Berrien for the EEOC chairperson post and she was sworn in during April the following year.
During her tenure in the EEOC, Berrien developed a reputation for bringing new energy and ideas to the Commission’s systemic program. Berrien was also leading the EEOC when the agency won a $240 million award for a group of abused workers in Iowa with intellectual disabilities. The EEOC v. Hill County Farms matter was settled in 2013 with each of the 32 men involved in the suit being awarded just over $7 million each. It is the largest award ever won by the agency.
Berrien’s passion for the EEOC was also demonstrated in 2013 when the federal government was under sequestration which put federal workers on a week-long furlough. Under sequestration, appointed officials didn’t lose any of their salary. But Berrien selflessly donated her week’s salary to a federal government employee assistance fund.
The Washington, D.C. native stepped down in 2014, succeeded by Jenny R. Chang.
Berrien is survived by her husband, Peter M. Williams.