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Trump's civil rights pick has made a career fighting for corporate rights

by Tess Owen
Jun 30 2017, 12:00pm

During his tenure as attorney general under President Obama, Eric Holder often referred to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division as “the crown jewel of the DOJ.” And indeed during the Obama administration, the department aggressively pursued police reform, prosecuted hate crimes, and championed transgender rights.

On Thursday, President Trump nominated a new head for the agency whose record signals a different approach entirely: corporate attorney Eric Dreiband. Dreiband has represented big companies in their legal showdowns with pregnant women and elderly workers. He fought the Justice Department on behalf of North Carolina, which was sued by Obama’s DOJ for its “bathroom bill” deemed discriminatory toward transgender people.

In a statement, Vanita Gupta, who ran the Civil Rights division under President Obama, said Dreiband “has made a name for himself as one of corporate America’s go-to lawyers in an effort to restrict rights and remedies for discrimination victims.”

Those cheering his nomination appeared to be in line with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ view that the actions taken by the Civil Rights Division during the Obama years was an overreach of the federal government.

“Eric Dreiband is the right pick to return the Civil Rights Division to a tradition of enforcing the law free from politics,” said J. Christian Adams, president of and general counsel to the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an organization dedicated to stopping voter fraud. “The DOJ should again enforce laws requiring clean voter rolls and clean elections.“

Here’s what you should know about Dreiband:

  • Dreiband represented Abercrombie & Fitch, after the clothing retailer was sued in 2008 by Samantha Elauf, a Muslim teenager in Oklahoma, who charged that the company denied her a sales job because she wore a headscarf for religious purposes. Abercrombie & Fitch, which promotes a collegiate sex-and-bros aesthetic, argued that Elauf’s headscarf violated their “look policy.” The case eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 8-1 in Elauf’s favor. Elauf was backed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the civil rights office within the Department of Labor.
  • Dreiband was also part of the legal team that represented the University of North Carolina last year in its contentious showdown with the Justice Department over “HB2,” the state law that restricted transgender North Carolinians’ access to public restrooms.
  • Dreiband defended R.J. Reynolds, America’s second-largest tobacco company, in an age-discrimination case that started in 2015. The plaintiff in the suit was denied a job with the company at age 49. He sued after learning, thanks to a whistleblower, that the company had hired a subcontractor to sift through resumés and discard “older” applicants. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court left a lower court’s narrow 6-5 decision intact — which was that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to people who are currently employed rather than seeking employment.
  • He also represented Bloomberg LP in a 2008 lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against pregnant women by diminishing their pay and denying them promotions. Bloomberg won the case.
  • Dreiband served as a top attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the George W. Bush Administration.
  • According to his law firm biography, Dreiband served in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, from 1997 to 2000, where he led the investigation and subsequent prosecution of a Clinton associate.

COVER: Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, June 19, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)