Jacqueline A. Berrien, former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and civil rights activist, passed away Monday, Nov. 9.
Berrien, a native of Washington, D.C., served as chair of the EEOC from April 2010 through August 2014. President Barack Obama, in nominating her for the post, said she “has spent her entire career fighting to give voice to underrepresented communities and protect our most basic rights.”
“Chair Berrien’s death is a tragic loss for the civil rights community for which she was a guiding light,” said current EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang in a statement. “Her dedication to public service made a difference in so many lives and left our nation more just.”
During her tenure with the EEOC, Berrien focused on combatting workplace discrimination, ensuring that the agency made investments in staffing, training, and technology to hire front-line staff, increase productivity, and reduce or maintain the inventory of pending charges. Despite challenges posed by declining resources and a record number of charges of discrimination filed during that time, the EEOC was able to accomplish these goals under Berrien’s leadership.
Because of her background as a litigator, Berrien took an interest in the EEOC’s systemic program, and as chair, systemic investigations, conciliations, and litigation became a significant focus of the agency. With her help, the EEOC also received its largest award ever, under the Americans with Disabilities Act — $240 million in the case EEOC v. Hill Country Farms.
In addition to helping guide the passage of regulations concerning the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 and the Disparate Impact and Reasonable Factors Other than Age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, she also helped issue enforcement guidance on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and pregnancy discrimination.
As someone who led by example, Berrien donated her pay to a federal employee assistance fund when the agency furloughed career staff for a week in 2013. And on her numerous visits to EEOC offices around the country, she was known for emphasizing to every employee the importance of his or her work.
“Our hearts go out to Chair Berrien’s family,” said Yang. “We will honor her by building on the inspired legacy that she left us.”