Jacqueline A. Berrien, the former chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a veteran civil rights lawyer who had earlier served five years as associate director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, died Nov. 9 at a hospital in Baltimore. She was 53.
The cause of was cancer, said her husband, Peter M. Williams, the NAACP’s executive vice president for programs. They had homes in Washington and Brooklyn.
Ms. Berrien led the EEOC from 2010 to 2014, when her term expired. “She fought hard every day to make real our nation’s promise of equal opportunity for all,” President Obama said in a statement. “Jackie’s leadership and passion for ensuring everyone gets a fair chance to succeed in the workplace has changed our country for the better.”
Under Ms. Berrien’s leadership, the EEOC took action against systemic employment practices and work rules that discriminated against classes of people on the basis of ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disabilities and religious beliefs.
The EEOC significantly reduced its case backlog under her watch. It also published guidelines for the consideration of records related to arrests and convictions in employment decisions, the role of pregnancy in employment decisions and the application of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
Jacqueline Ann Berrien was born in the District on Nov. 28, 1961. Her father was a pharmacist, and her mother was a nurse. She graduated in 1979 from the Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, Md., from Ohio’s Oberlin College in 1983 and from Harvard Law School in 1986.
She spent her early legal career with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in Washington and with the National Legal Department and Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York.
In 1994, she became an assistant counsel to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, focusing on voting rights and school desegregation litigation. In the early 2000s, she was a program officer with the Ford Foundation’s Peace and Social Justice Program, then returned to the Legal Defense Fund in 2004 as associate director-counsel.
In addition to her husband of 28 years, survivors include a brother.
In a 2011 interview with The Washington Post, Ms. Berrien was asked to identify an event or experience in her life that helped her qualify for the leadership of a federal agency. She chose music.
“I started studying music when I was a child,” she said. “Eventually I went from piano lessons and emphasis on solo performance to playing and studying flute and singing in ensemble. . . . Music taught me the importance of striking a balance. . . . It made me comfortable with being in front of the room for solo performances and the beauty of working together well.
“I think there are a lot of lessons I learned from being a part of music ensembles and learning how to work with other people in that way.”