Faculty + Staff

Jocelyn Samuels named new Williams Institute executive director

Former Obama administration official will lead UCLA School of Law’s LGBT research and policy center

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Jocelyn Samuels

Jocelyn Samuels has been selected as the new executive director of the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy.

From July of 2014 through the beginning of 2017, Samuels was the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she oversaw civil rights enforcement with respect to hospitals, healthcare providers, insurers and human services agencies. In that role, Samuels spearheaded development of regulations implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act — the first broad-based federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in federally-funded healthcare. The regulations that she developed represented a groundbreaking development for LGBT equality, protecting LGBT individuals by prohibiting discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity.

“Jocelyn is one of the country’s leading civil rights experts,” said Doug NeJaime, the Williams Institute’s faculty director. “Her extraordinary experience on questions of equality across a range of substantive domains, including LGBT rights, is unmatched. Through her service in the Obama Administration, Jocelyn initiated and implemented critical new protections for LGBT people. As part of that work, Jocelyn and her staff relied on both social science and legal research generated by Williams Institute scholars. Now she brings to the leadership of the Williams Institute her deep commitment to civil rights, her extensive experience at the highest levels of policymaking, and her wide-ranging management skills."

Samuels will join the Williams Institute on June 5 and will take over from founding executive director Brad Sears on July 1. Under his leadership over the past 16 years, the Williams Institute grew from a staff of two to more than 25 and developed a broad base of supporters, which have allowed the institute to conduct rigorous, independent research on a wide range of issues affecting LGBT people. Williams Institute work has shaped laws, policies, and decisions at all levels of government to protect the rights of LGBT people in employment, family life, housing, health care, and other areas.

“The Williams Institute is the first academic institute of its kind at any law school, and under the leadership of Brad Sears it has become the preeminent source for information on LGBT law and policy and an incubator for exceptional research,” said Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA School of Law. “I am confident that Jocelyn Samuels will build on this great legacy and make the Williams Institute and UCLA Law even more of a powerhouse in this dynamic field.”

Samuels also served as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Obama administration and held other positions as a political appointee within the department. She oversaw work across a range of civil rights issues, including voting rights, systemic reform of police departments, prosecution of hate crimes, and protections for individuals with disabilities. Samuels also managed efforts to extend Title VII and Title IX protections against sex discrimination to LGBT people, and she oversaw the Civil Rights Division's work to implement United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court's 2013 decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Earlier in her career, she worked as a senior policy attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and as labor counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy. Samuels’ service in the Obama Administration came after years as vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center. There she led efforts to promote gender equality that, among other accomplishments, resulted in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed into law by Obama.

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