The questioning could be intense for President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division, as Eric Dreiband’s nomination goes before the Senate judiciary committee Wednesday.
Dreiband has come under a wave of criticism from civil rights organizations and LGBT activists because of his work defending major corporations against discrimination lawsuits, and in some cases flip-flopping his position. But the White House and some former colleagues have described Dreiband as a hard worker with impeccable integrity.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said that Dreiband’s nomination serves to undermine “fundamental civil rights priorities.”
Civil rights groups are concerned about Dreiband’s work since 2005 as a labor attorney for prominent Washington law firms Akin Gump and Jones Day, where he is currently a partner. Dreiband has defended companies like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in an age discrimination case, Bloomberg in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, CVS Pharmacy in an employee severance agreement lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
LGBT groups criticized Dreiband for his representation of the University of North Carolina when it decided to honor provisions of the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” that banned people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex as listed on their birth certificates. Those provisions were repealed in March.
Most troubling for some legal observers is Dreiband’s seeming flip-flop when it came to minority hiring at the retailer Abercrombie and Fitch. In 2004, while serving as general counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President George W. Bush, Dreiband led a successful discrimination case against the company.
The case alleged that the company violated the Civil Rights Act by maintaining hiring and recruiting practices that favored white men over minority and female job applicants. Abercrombie agreed to pay $50 million to resolve the EEOC lawsuit, and signed a consent decree enjoining it from discriminating against applicants based on their race or sex.
There are many in the legal community who stress Dreiband was simply doing his job.
Richard Seymour is a civil rights and employment law attorney who worked with Dreiband at the EEOC and is jumping to his defense in the face of this widespread criticism.