Obituary: Delta Soror Jacqueline Berrien, Head of E.E.O.C.
The cause was cancer, her friend Melanie Eversley said. Ms. Berrien became ill in August during the N.A.A.C.P.’s Journey for Justice march from Selma, Ala., to Washington.
“Her last act was doing what she loved: civil rights,” said her husband, Peter M. Williams, the executive vice president for programs for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The E.E.O.C. had a number of successes during Ms. Berrien’s tenure as its chairwoman, from April 2010 through August 2014: It promulgated rules against discrimination in employment and health-insurance enrollment on the basis of disability or genetic test results; it won a record $240 million jury verdict (reduced to $1.6 million because of a statutory cap on damages) against a company accused of abusing workers with intellectual disabilities at an Iowa turkey processing plant; and it significantly reduced its case backlog.
Her death prompted accolades from former colleagues, including the president and Michelle Obama, who praised her “leadership and passion for ensuring everyone gets a fair chance to succeed in the workplace.”
Jacqueline Ann Berrien was born in Washington on Nov. 28, 1961. Her father, Clifford, was a pharmacist. Her mother, the former Anna Belle Smith, was a nurse.
Ms. Berrien graduated from Oberlin College and from Harvard Law School, where she was general editor of The Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. After serving as a clerk for a federal judge, she joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 1994, she became an assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, focusing on voting rights and school desegregation litigation. After working at the Ford Foundation, she returned as associate director-counsel of the fund, whose national headquarters is in New York.
She taught at Harvard Law School and New York Law School and lived most recently in Washington. In addition to her husband, she is survived by a brother, Clifford Eric Berrien.
“Jackie believed in helping the underdog,” Ms. Eversley said. “She always talked about how the real movers of the civil rights movement were unsung residents of small towns in the South who risked lives and jobs to march and defy the status quo.”
In her civil rights work, Ms. Berrien took the long view.
“Will the workplace be more inclusive and discrimination less common when my children, my godchildren, or my nieces and nephews enter it?” she asked in an interview with The Washington Post in 2011.
“The essence of the work of advancing and protecting civil rights in this country,” she added, “is very much something where our ultimate success will manifest in decades. It will be measured by how different life is for someone who is a child today.”