U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
THIS IS A SPECIAL YEAR at the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as the agency that enforces federal anti-discrimination laws celebrates the
50th anniversary of the legislation responsible for its
existence: the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And the agency’s general counsel, David Lopez, is at the center of the
Appointed in 2010, Lopez had been supervisory trial
attorney in the EEOC Phoenix District Office. He enjoyed fighting civil rights violations in his home state, but
when President Obama tapped him to be general counsel—the first EEOC field trial attorney appointed to that
position—Lopez found it “hard to say no to that.”
Recently named one of America’s 50 Outstanding
General Counsel by the National Law Journal, Lopez has
successfully tried and overseen many civil rights cases over
the years, first in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S.
Department of Justice, then at EEOC. He was the first to
try a case stemming from the backlash to Muslim-Amer-icans after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He won a
religious discrimination case on behalf of a woman who
was fired from Alamo Rental Car after she sought to wear
a hijab during Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims
During Lopez’s tenure, EEOC secured a record $240
million in damages against Henry’s Turkey Service in Iowa
for subjecting 32 mentally disabled men to severe abuse
Lopez, who is Mexican-American, credits his parents
for his passion for justice. Active in social causes, such as
the farmworker movement, they taught him that people
were obliged to make the world a better place. As a child,
he admits, he tended to roll his eyes when they’d start
talking like this.
“Your parents will say stuff…and you don’t appreciate it
until later when the seeds start to germinate.”
Before he enrolled at Arizona State University to pursue
writing, he worked at a supermarket where he witnessed
racial conflict and a cruel boss. As he began to truly see
people’s struggles around him, his passions changed and
he decided to become a civil rights lawyer.
He’s proud that under his helm the EEOC has prevailed in over 90 percent of its trials, and he thinks often
of the Civil Rights Act that started it all.
“It fundamentally transformed America and enshrined
this idea of equal opportunity and threw off the vestiges
of the caste system,” he says. “Dreams will not be limited
by race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. [At the
EEOC] we’re vigilant about those values.” D&B
MELANIE PADGETT POWERS is a freelance writer and editor
in the Washington, DC, area. She can be contacted at i.am.
firstname.lastname@example.org or @MelEdits on Twitter.