On Thursday, Sept. 17, William & Mary’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) welcomed David Lopez, General Counsel, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to the Law School to begin the academic year’s L. Douglas Wilder Speaker Series.
Lopez’s presentation, “My Year in the Supreme Court and Other Civil Rights Challenges of our Time,” touched upon the history of civil rights, the EEOC’s role in the progress civil rights and equal employment, and remaining challenges. Lopez also discussed his own career.
Morris Brailsford J.D. ’18 opened the event with a proclamation inaugurating the school year’s L. Douglas Wilder Speaker series. Dean Davison M. Douglas then introduced Lopez, who was nominated by President Obama and assumed his duties as the EEOC’s General Counsel in April 2010.
Lopez began by briefly addressing the responsibilities of the EEOC, stating that the agency challenges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Lopez remarked that the EEOC also challenges employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation and that the federal agency recently marked the 50th anniversary of its opening.
During his lecture, Lopez emphasized that the Civil Rights Act triggered a conversation that is still being held today. “Each generation,” he noted, “has a new conversation.”
Drawing comparisons between a pre- and post-Civil Rights Act United States, Lopez discussed how the scope of civil rights has expanded with each generation, all the way from race to sexual orientation. He also devoted time to highlighting defining moments in civil rights’ history, touching upon both legislative and judicial examples.
Lopez then addressed several notable, contemporary examples of employment discrimination and how the EEOC addressed them successfully at the Supreme Court level. Examples included Young v. UPS, which dealt with disparate treatment of a pregnant employee, as well as EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, in which the EEOC sued Abercrombie & Fitch on behalf of Samantha Elauf, who was denied employment based upon her wearing of a hijab (religious headscarf). The Supreme Court ruled in Elauf’s favor.
Lopez went on to note the EEOC’s continuing efforts in the face of ongoing civil rights challenges, implying that it falls to everyone to continue the conversation.
After the lecture, Brailsford indicated that Lopez was the perfect guest for the first Wilder Lecture of the semester.
“Lopez exemplifies the ideals of the citizen lawyer that we strive to be at William & Mary” Brailsford said.
Following the lecture, members of the Latino Law Students Association presented Lopez with the Voice of Diversity Award, and BLSA members awarded Lopez a plaque recognizing him as a distinguished speaker.
The William & Mary BLSA L. Douglas Wilder Speaker Series features notable and respected individuals who have served in governmental, public policy, and legal capacities and who have made significant contributions to the Nation, the Commonwealth, and/or the local community. Selected speakers embody the ideals of public and community service Governor Wilder has represented throughout his distinguished career as a public servant.
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.