La­bor Dept. so­lic­i­tor, helped cre­ate NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’


The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­

Thomas S. Wil­liamson Jr., a la­bor and em­ploy­ment lawyer who served as so­lic­i­tor for the La­bor Depart­ment and helped de­vise the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” to en­cour­age greater di­ver­sity in the hir­ing of coaches, died Feb. 24 at his home in Wash­ing­ton. He was 70.

The cause was pan­cre­atic can­cer, said his wife, Shel­ley Bra­zier.

Mr. Wil­liamson was a long­time part­ner and later se­nior coun­sel at the Wash­ing­ton law firm of Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing, where he led the em­ploy­ment prac­tice group. His work in­cluded whistle­blower and job dis­crim­i­na­tion cases and ne­go­ti­at­ing agree­ments with the La­bor Depart­ment.

Through­out his ca­reer, Mr. Wil­liamson oc­ca­sion­ally left the firm for pro bono work, in­clud­ing a year as a staff at­tor­ney for the Neigh­bor­hood Le­gal Ser­vices Pro­gram in 1976. He was deputy in­spec­tor gen­eral for the U.S. En­ergy Depart­ment from 1978 to 1981 and, from 1993 to 1996, was the La­bor Depart­ment’s so­lic­i­tor, or chief le­gal of­fi­cer, su­per­vis­ing a staff of 700, in­clud­ing 500 lawyers.

In 2003, when Mr. Wil­liamson was a spe­cial ad­viser to the Na­tional Foot­ball League, he had a key role in es­tab­lish­ing a leaguewide rule en­cour­ag­ing own­ers to in­clude mi­nor­ity can­di­dates for head-coach­ing open­ings. It be­came known as the Rooney Rule af­ter Dan Rooney, the prin­ci­pal owner of the Pittsburgh Steel­ers and chair­man of the own­ers’ di­ver­sity com­mit­tee.

More re­cently, Mr. Wil­liamson led a le­gal team de­fend­ing the same-sex mar­riage law in the District of Columbia. He also worked on a na­tion­wide class-ac­tion law­suit re­quir­ing the U.S. Postal Ser­vice to im­prove Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage in­ter­preter ser­vices for its deaf em­ploy­ees.

In 2008, Mr. Wil­liamson was one of two part­ners at Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing named by the Na­tional Law Jour­nal among “The 50 Most In­flu­en­tial Mi­nor­ity Lawyers in Amer­ica.” The other was Eric H. Holder Jr., who served as U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Thomas Sa­muel Wil­liamson Jr. was born July 14, 1946, in Plain­field, N.J. His fa­ther, an Army lieu­tenant colonel, was among the mil­i­tary’s first African Amer­i­can of­fi­cers placed in com­mand of white troops.

Mr. Wil­liamson grew up in Pied­mont, Calif., and turned down an ath­letic schol­ar­ship to Stan­ford Univer­sity to at­tend Har­vard Univer­sity, where he was an all-Ivy League de­fen­sive back on the foot­ball team. One of his team­mates was the ac­tor Tommy Lee Jones.

Mr. Wil­liamson grad­u­ated magna cum laude from Har­vard in 1968 and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor so­ci­ety. He at­tended the Univer­sity of Ox­ford in Eng­land on a Rhodes schol­ar­ship, then spent a year in Ethiopia train­ing U.S. Peace Corps vol­un­teers for an Ethiopian com­pany.

He was a 1974 grad­u­ate of Boalt Hall, the law school of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. He joined Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing shortly af­ter grad­u­a­tion and be­came a part­ner of the firm in 1982.

Mr. Wil­liamson was a past pres­i­dent of the D.C. Bar and a past co-chair of the Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civil Rights Un­der Law.

His mar­riage to Ra­hel Haile ended in di­vorce. Sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 28 years, Shel­ley Bra­zier of Wash­ing­ton; three chil­dren from his sec­ond mar­riage, Thomas S. Wil­liamson III and Tay­lor Wil­liamson, both of Los An­ge­les, and Christo­pher Wil­liamson of Wausau, Wis.; a daugh­ter from an­other re­la­tion­ship, Kai Wil­liamson of At­lanta; his mother, Winifred Wil­liamson of Pied­mont; and a sis­ter.


Thomas S. Wil­liamson Jr. was a se­nior coun­sel at Wash­ing­ton’s Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing law firm.

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