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Civil rights groups criticize Trump Justice pick ahead of hearing

By Jessica Schneider and Deena Zaru, CNN | 9/6/2017, 8:33 a.m.
The questioning could be intense for President Donald Trump's pick to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, as Eric ...
President Donald Trump CNN photo

(CNN) -- 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."

Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office, characterized Dreiband as someone "with a history of restricting civil rights" and urged lawmakers to "ask the tough questions" during the confirmation process.

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 Those provisions were repealed in March.

"I think that Mr. Dreiband has a great deal to answer for," Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative group that advocates for LGBT rights, told CNN.

Flip-flop?

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.

"The retail industry ... need(s) to know that businesses cannot discriminate against individuals under the auspice of a marketing strategy or a particular 'look,' " Dreiband said at the time.

But in a 2015 case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Dreiband was on the legal team defending Abercrombie in a lawsuit that accused the clothing company of refusing to hire a Muslim teenager because her religious headscarf violated its "look" policy. In the Supreme Court brief submitted by Dreiband and other lawyers, they argued "the look policy is crucial to Abercrombie's success, and complying with it is an important part of a Model's job." The term "Model" is what Abercrombie called its floor associates.