Education — 10 February 2012
Pioneer  Now Legacy, Professor Belton Lived So Others Could Achieve

 

 

Today the world of law,civil rights and justice, as well as colleagues friends and family lost a pioneer in employment discrimination,Atty Robert Belton passed away but leaves behind a legacy. Atty. Robert Belton joined Vanderbilt Law School’s faculty in 1975. A trailblazer in civil rights as an activist, attorney and scholar, through- out his career, Professor Belton is the first African American law pro- fessor to earn tenure at the law school. More than 27 years would pass before another African American would earn tenure at the law school al- though several others who had earned tenure at other law schools joined the law faculty, with tenure, during this period. He retired in 2009 after 34 years at Vanderbilt.

Professor Belton earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut and his J.D. at Boston University. Before joining Van- derbilt’s law faculty, he was an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), where he headed a national civil rights litigation campaign to enforce a new federal law that pro- hibits discrimination in employment because of, for example, race and sex. The LDF, America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice, litigated Brown v. Board of Education and other landmark cases. His 2004 casebook (with Avery, Ontiveros and Corrada) on employ- ment discrimination law is the first to extensively integrate critical race and feminist theory in a published set of teaching materials on employ- ment discrimination law. Another book was Remedies in Employment Discrimination Law (John Wiley & Sons, 1992 and supplements 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 & 1999) Professor Belton had a major role in the land- mark Supreme Court civil rights case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., which some have argued has had a greater influence on civil rights enforce- ment and policy than Brown. Other landmark Supreme Court civil rights cases in which he was involved include Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody (damages in civil rights cases) and Harris v. Forklift Systems (sexual harassment). He left the LDF to become a partner in one of the first racially integrated firms in the South. The building owned by the North Carolina law firm where he was a partner was fire-bombed at the height of the firm’s involvement in a series of landmark civil rights cases, in- cluding Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court approved busing as a remedy to enforce the Brown decision.

A nationally recognized scholar of civil rights, Professor Belton is an expert in employment discrimination law. He was a popular and be- loved teacher and mentor, the author of numerous law review articles and book chapters, and the lead author of a widely-adopted casebook on employment discrimination law that was the first to incorporate criti- cal race and feminist theory. He taught the Law of Work (individual employee rights), Employment Discrimination Law, Constitutional Tort Litigation, and Race and the Law. He particularly enjoyed working with students interested in social justice. His articles included: Brown as a Work in Progress: Still Seeking Consensus after All These Years,” 34 Stetson Law Review 487 (2005), “Title VII at Forty: A Brief Look at the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of the Disparate Impact Theory of Discrimination,” 22 Hofstra Labor & Employment Journal 431 (2005), “Mixed-Motive Cases in Employment Discrimination Law, Revisited: A Brief Updated View of the Swamp,” 51 Mercer Law Review 651 (2000), “The Unfinished Agenda of the Civil Rights Act of 1991,” 45 Rutgers Law Review 921 (1993), “The Dismantling of the Griggs Disparate Im- pact Theory and the Future of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Need for a Third Reconstruction,” 8 Yale Law & Policy Review 223 (1990) “Discrimination and Affirmative Action: An Analysis of Com- peting Theories of Equality and Weber,” 59 North Carolina Law Review 531 (1981) and his presentations included: “Opportunities and Chal- lenges of the Supreme Court’s Employment Discrimination Decision in Desert Palace v. Costa,” panelist at the 20th Annual Convention of the National Employment Lawyers Association, Rancho Mirage, California (June 26, 2009) and “Problems of Compliance with Workplace Laws,” panelist at the AALS 2009 Mid-Year Meeting, Workshop on Work Law, Long Beach, California (June 11, 2009)

He played an important role in mentoring minority law students, serving as the faculty advisor to the Black Law Students Association and working with other African American faculty throughout the Vanderbilt community on equality issues.

Over the course of his career, Professor Belton was a visiting profes- sor at Harvard Law School and the University of North Carolina, and the first Distinguished Charles Hamilton Houston Visiting Professor of Law at North Carolina Central School of Law.

At Vanderbilt, he served on a number of law school and university committees, including the Faculty Senate, the Committee on the Sta- tus of Women and Minorities, the University Research Council, and the Black Cultural Center, and on many professional committees, including the Executive Committee of the American Association of Law Schools and the National Employment Lawyers Association. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (the Boule), and the 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee.

Professor Belton and his wife, Joy, are the parents of two children, Keith and Alaina, and the grandparents of two grandchildren, Savannah and Kelsey.

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