Deborah J. Vagins Bio

Deborah J. Vagins

National Campaign Director, Equal Rights Advocates

Deborah J. Vagins is the National Campaign Director of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) and the Director of Equal Pay Today. In this position, Deborah leads ERA’s existing national campaigns, as well as developing emerging national campaign efforts on issues around equal pay, sexual harassment, occupational segregation, caregivers discrimination, paid leave, minimum and tipped minimum wage, and wage theft. Deborah brings to ERA decades of experience as a guiding voice in civil and women’s rights federal policy advocacy, with a focus on economic and racial justice issues.

Prior to joining ERA, Deborah was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, where she led the organization’s work to create a social, political, and economic environment in which domestic violence no longer exists.  NNEDV represents the 56 state and territorial domestic violence coalitions, is a leading voice for domestic violence victims and their advocates, and offers a range of programs and initiatives to address the complex causes and far-reaching consequences of domestic violence. Deborah helped craft NNEDV’s vision and strategic partnerships to identify emerging issues and trends in the field to develop intersectional responses, including policy, economic justice, housing, legal, and technology solutions, to support survivors. In three years, during a pandemic, Deborah successfully led the organization’s fundraising efforts, doubling its revenue and securing new and expanded partnerships with private funders, as well as embarking on new and expanded projects with culturally specific partners and projects focusing on racial equity and restorative justice. In leading its federal policy work, Deborah and the NNEDV policy team were instrumental in the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 and other pieces of federal legislation that support survivors.  Deborah also expanded NNEDV’s groundbreaking free, legal email hotline for survivors and led their legal amicus program.

Prior to joining NNEDV, Deborah was the Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). At AAUW, Deborah led the public policy, legal advocacy, and research departments to advance the organization’s vision at the local, state, and federal levels. In this role, Deborah developed strategic campaigns through advocacy, case law development, and research to reshape a public policy agenda and to marshal broad support for gender equity initiatives with respect to economic security, education, and leadership roles for women. She co-lead the national Paycheck Fairness Act coalition and the organization’s fight against the Administration’s rollback of sexual assault and sexual harassment protections in schools. She is the co-author of several AAUW research reports, including The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap; Limiting our Livelihoods: The Cumulative Impact of Sexual Harassment on Women’s Careers; and Broken Ladders: Barriers to Women’s Representation in Nonprofit Leadership.

Before AAUW, Deborah was a Chief of Staff and Principal Attorney Advisor at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Deborah rendered legal interpretations regarding Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other laws governing equal employment opportunity. She served as an agency representative on the White House Council for Women and Girls, the White House Equal Pay Task Force, and the DOJ Interagency Transgender Workgroup. Among other projects, she was part of the teams working on the EEOC’s groundbreaking positions on LGBTQ workplace protections, the EEOC’s pay data collection initiative, and new guidance on retaliation and pregnancy discrimination.

Prior to joining the EEOC in 2015, Deborah was the Senior Legislative Counsel on civil rights issues for the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. In this position, Deborah led campaigns on federal legislative and executive branch actions, including on employment discrimination and pay equity, voting rights, racial disparities in education and the school-to-prison pipeline, disability rights, and other civil and human rights issue areas. She worked closely with coalition partners and key congressional, White House, and federal agency staff to advance a national civil rights agenda.

At the ACLU, Deborah was instrumental in advocating for passage of major civil rights laws, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and, among others. She helped design and successfully advocated for executive action on employment and education issues, including an executive order banning retaliation for wage disclosure in federal contracting and ordering pay data collection, and the Department of Education’s Title VI guidance addressing racial disparities in school discipline. She co-chaired several national civil rights coalitions, including the Paycheck Fairness Act coalition, and coalitions focused on voter re-enfranchisement and racial disparities in school discipline. While at the ACLU, Deborah drafted and co-authored numerous congressional statements, articles, and reports including: Working in the Shadows: Ending Employment Discrimination for LGBT Americans; Promises to Keep: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act; The Democracy Restoration Act: Addressing A Centuries-Old Injustice; and Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of an Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law.

Prior to joining the ACLU in 2005, Deborah served as the Acting Deputy General Counsel and Senior Attorney-Advisor at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR). The general counsel’s office provided recommendations to the White House, Congress and federal agencies to improve national civil rights policies and preserve constitutional protections. Deborah and the staff conducted investigations, held briefings, and drafted comprehensive analyses to develop national policies regarding voting rights, Title VI enforcement, environmental justice, racial disparities in education, and affirmative action.

Before working at USCCR, Deborah was an associate in the employment discrimination and civil rights practice group at Cohen Milstein, where she litigated high-profile nationwide civil rights class actions. She represented more than 1.5 million women from Wal-Mart in the largest Title VII employment discrimination class action in history. Prior to that, Deborah was an associate at Sidley Austin in the civil, criminal, and constitutional litigation practice group and founded the firm’s Committee for the Recruitment and Retention of Women. Earlier Deborah worked at EMILY’s List and clerked at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Deborah frequently lectures, speaks at press conferences and rallies, and has made appearances on The TODAY Show, BBC News, Shepard Smith, Washington Post LIVE, and NBC Nightly News and in Glamour, USA Today, the New Republic, The New York Times, C-SPAN, TIME, the Washington Post, AP, CQ, NPR, The Hill, Huffington Post, and others. In 2019, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts for her outstanding achievements in civil and women’s rights.

Deborah graduated magna cum laude from the Washington College of Law at American University in 1996, where she was an editor of the law review and the recipient of the Gillett-Mussey scholarship for her contributions in the field of gender equity. She received her B.A. with distinction from Swarthmore College in 1991.


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