William Robinson

William L. Robinson
Professor of Law Emeritus

A.B., Oberlin College, 1963; LL.B., Columbia University School of Law, 1966.

William L. Robinson, founding Dean of the District of Columbia School of Law and the University of the District of Columbia School of Law, is an outstanding litigator, teacher, leader of the civil rights bar, and leader in the civil rights movement. In 2007, he was honored with the University of the District of Columbia’s Distinguished Leadership Award, which recognizes members of the University community whose life’s work exemplifies outstanding leadership.

While at Columbia, Professor Robinson spent substantial time in the South doing legal research on voting rights and sit-in demonstration cases. As Executive Director of the Law Student Civil Rights Research Council, he met with southern civil rights lawyers and assigned northern law school students to work under their supervision.

Beginning in 1967, Professor Robinson litigated civil rights cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, including public accommodations, school desegregation, public housing, and employment discrimination. As Director of the Fund’s employment discrimination practice, and First Assistant Counsel, he and his team won more than twenty-five federal appellate cases that essentially rewrote the procedural requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so that laypersons could effectively bring employment discrimination claims under the statute.

Professor Robinson also played a primary role in taking before the Supreme Court two cases that for the first time gave substantive definition to Title VII and lay the foundation for civil rights discrimination claims. In Griggs v. Duke Power, the Court announced the disparate impact theory of discrimination as the template for proving claims of systemic discrimination. In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, the Court established guidelines for proving discrimination against an individual claimant. Together, these landmark decisions govern proof of discrimination against individuals and minority groups under Title VII and all subsequent civil rights legislation. As counsel of record, Professor Robinson presented argument to the Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., the Court’s first Title VII case. He persuaded the Court to hold that an employer may not refuse to hire a woman simply because she has preschool age children.

Shortly after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was given court enforcement authority, Professor Robinson accepted appointment as Associate General Counsel in charge of all trial court litigation. He approved all complaints and settlements filed in court and represented the agency in numerous cases, including negotiation of the nationwide settlement with the steel industry approved by the courts in United States v. Allegheny-Ludlum Steel.

Professor Robinson left the EEOC to become Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, a private civil rights organization formed at President John F. Kennedy’s request. During the Reagan presidency, Professor Robinson was a key player in the coalition of civil rights advocates who persuaded Congress to pass nineteen civil rights statutes, representing more civil rights legislation than at any other time in the nation’s history. He is especially proud of having represented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Helms v. SCLC. This case rebuffed Senator Jesse Helms’ efforts to make public the spurious FBI wiretap tapes of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and prevented the senator from derailing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Holiday Bill.

After stepping down as Dean in 1998, Professor Robinson spent the 1998-1999 academic year as the W. Haywood Burns Professor of Civil Rights Law at CUNY School of Law, and the 1999-2000 year as Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law. Returning to UDC Law, he co-directed the Externship Program and taught Employment Law, Appellate Advocacy, Labor Law, Civil Rights in the 21st Century, and Race in the Law. He was granted Professor Emeritus status in 2017.

Professor Robinson has served on the boards of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, the District of Columbia School of Law Foundation and Oberlin College.