Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bob Belton, 1933-2012

Belton2Thanks to Marion Crain (Wash. U.) for alerting us of Bob Belton's Thursday passing.  The Vanderbilt website has a nice tribute to him.  Below are some of the excerpts.  Please feel free to add your own comments to this post to describe how Bob touched your life.

Robert Belton, who retired from a 34-year career as a professor at Vanderbilt Law School in 2009, died Feb. 9 after suffering a stroke. He was 76 years old.

A nationally recognized scholar of labor and employment and civil rights law, Belton joined Vanderbilt’s law faculty in 1975 and became the first African American to be granted tenure at Vanderbilt Law School. He was a popular and beloved teacher and mentor who particularly enjoyed working with students interested in social justice. He played an important role in mentoring minority law students, serving as faculty adviser to the Black Law Students Association and working with other African American faculty on equality issues at Vanderbilt.

A trailblazer in civil rights as an activist, attorney and scholar throughout his career, Belton served from 1965 to 1970 as an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. At the Legal Defense Fund, he headed a national civil rights litigation campaign to enforce what was then a new federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment because of factors such as race and sex.

Belton had a major role in Griggs v. Duke Power Co, the landmark Supreme Court civil rights case the Legal Defense Fund litigated. Other landmark Supreme Court civil rights cases in which he was involved included Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, which addressed damages in civil rights cases, and Harris v. Forklift Systems, which addressed sexual harassment.

From 1970 to 1975 Belton practiced law as a partner at Chambers Stein Ferguson & Lanning in Charlotte, N.C., one of the first racially integrated firms in the South. The building owned by the firm was fire-bombed at the height of its involvement in a series of landmark civil rights cases, including Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court approved busing as a remedy to enforce the Brown v. Board of Education decision.


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One of the nice things that came out of my visit to Vanderbilt a couple of years ago was getting the chance to meet Bob. We had some great substantive discussions about recent cases, especially Ricci which had just came out and was near and dear to his heart given his work on Griggs. In fact, he was hard at work on a book about Griggs and my selfish hope is that he was able to complete enough so that someone can finish it. But even more important than those great talks was that he he was just a really nice man. He barely knew me, but always made a point to warmly greet me whenever we'd see each other--usually by teasing me about whether I'd figured out how to make sense of Ricci to my students. I still think of that teasing each and every time I fail to make sense of Ricci in class. A huge loss.

Posted by: Jeff Hirsch | Feb 12, 2012 10:00:13 PM

One other thing that weighs more heavily on me than any case: I appreciate your being the bearer of the very sad news of Bob Belton's death. I knew Bob for a long time, beginning in 1969 when I returned to NY from clerking and was a young associate in a Wall Street firm doing volunteer appellate briefing for the Inc. Fund. Bob was one of my mentors, unfailingly kind and ever insightful and visionary about Title VII in its infancy. When we moved to NC, we crossed paths again many times as his firm was a model for ours in doing civil rights work across the state. Regrettably, Bob's move to academia (a very good thing for the profession, of course) reduced our interaction to sporadic, but the lessons he taught are enduring.

Posted by: Jonathan harkavy | Feb 14, 2012 8:13:12 AM

I only met Bob once at an ALI meeting, but he struck me immediately as a gentleman and someone whose knowledge of employment discrimination law was very impressive. He will certainly be missed.

Posted by: Paul Secunda | Feb 15, 2012 3:44:04 PM

I met Bob Belton in my first year of teaching while speaking at an employment law conference. He knew that I had worked closely with Jim Jones from Wisconsin and they were co-authors of a textbook at the time. And for some reason and with my great appreciation, he immediately became very supportive of me and my scholarly efforts. His laugh could fill up the room and he was always encouraging and helpful. He was not only a trailblazer in employment law, but he was just a truly thoughtful and caring human being. He will never be forgotten.

Posted by: Michael Green | Feb 15, 2012 7:18:06 PM

Bob was inspiring and helpful when I was at Vanderbilt Law School. His major role in Griggs v. Duke Power Co will be remembered.

Posted by: Joy | Jul 23, 2012 7:01:42 AM

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