William L. Robinson was founding dean of the District of Columbia School of Law and the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.
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 work exemplifies outstanding leadership.
Beginning in 1967, 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 as first assistant counsel, he and his team won more than 25 federal appellate cases that rewrote the procedural requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so that laypeople could effectively bring employment discrimination claims under the statute.
Robinson also played a primary role in taking before the U.S. Supreme Court two cases that for the first time gave substantive definition to Title VII and lay the foundation for civil rights dis-crimination claims. As counsel of record, 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.
During the Ronald Reagan administration, Robinson was a key player in the coalition of civil rights advocates who persuaded Congress to pass 19 civil rights statutes, representing more civil rights legislation than at any other time in the nation’s history. One of his proudest achievements is having represented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Helms v. SCLC. The case rebuffed former Sen. Jesse Helms’ efforts to make public the FBI wiretap tapes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and prevented the senator from derailing the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Holiday Bill.
At Oberlin, Robinson served on the college’s board of trustees for 18 years. In 2003, Robinson endowed the Grady J. and Trevesta P. Robinson Scholarship in honor of his parents. The scholarship provides financial aid to academically and financially deserving Oberlin College students.
Robinson participated in the Conference on Law and Liberal Arts at Oberlin College: Law and Social Change in the 21st Century held on campus in 2003.
After stepping down as dean of the University of the District of Columbia School of Law in 1998, Robinson spent the 1998-99 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. Robinson currently team teaches Civil Rights in the 21st Century and teaches Labor & Employment Law, Appellate Advocacy, and Race in the Law.
Since 1995, Robinson has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Nordson Corp. in Westlake.