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Prominent Advocate for Women’s and Civil Rights Selected to Lead National Network to End Domestic Violence

October 23, 2019

Deborah J. Vagins Named President and CEO 

WASHINGTON, DC — The Board of Directors of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) announced today that Deborah Vagins has been selected as the President and CEO of the membership and advocacy organization. Deborah brings with her to NNEDV decades of experience working in the women’s and racial justice communities working to protect and expand civil and human rights for all. Deborah will join NNEDV in early December 2019.

A leading voice for survivors of domestic violence and their advocates, NNEDV is dedicated to creating a social, political, and economic environment in which violence against women no longer exists. NNEDV was founded by the state domestic violence coalitions in 1990 to help write and pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Today, NNEDV works closely with the 56 state and territorial coalitions to support strong services and promote survivor-centered legislation. NNEDV also has many internationally recognized signature projects addressing how technology, economic justice, housing, HIV, and legal issues intersect with domestic violence.

“Deborah brings a life-long commitment to women’s economic justice and combating intersectional discrimination, senior leadership experience, and extensive background in public policy to her new role. The Board is impressed with Deborah’s passion and energy for advancing human rights and know she will be a leader who will help us move closer to the goal of ending domestic violence,” said Jenny Backus, chair of NNEDV’s Board of Directors and President of Backus Consulting.

Currently, Deborah is wrapping up her role as the Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) where she was instrumental in developing strategic campaigns and leading national advocacy efforts with a focus on protecting women’s economic security and educational rights. Most recently, she led the organization’s fight against the Administration’s rollback of sexual assault and sexual harassment protections in schools and for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act in the  U.S.House of Representatives.

Deborah has also held top legal and legislative positions with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where she provided guidance on workplace protections that address equal pay, sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and racial disparities, among others. While at the EEOC, Deborah was an agency representative on the White House Council for Women and Girls and the White House Equal Pay Task Force. During her ACLU tenure, Deb held leadership roles in major national civil rights coalitions, including the Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition, the Democracy Restoration Act Coalition, the Human Rights at Home Campaign, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Reform Task Force, and a national school discipline reform coalition.

“I look forward to working with NNEDV’s extraordinary staff, members, and Board to meet the needs of survivors, to make domestic violence unacceptable in our society, and to bring an end to this national crisis,” said Vagins. “I am excited to build on the incredible work of NNEDV and bring more attention to these vital efforts in order to build more support for survivors and to make a world without violence one step closer. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the compassionate and innovative organizations and individuals who comprise NNEDV’s membership.”

An extensive national search was conducted by a search committee that included several state domestic violence coalition directors and was chaired by David Diggs, NNEDV Board Treasurer and former Executive Director of the CTIA Foundation. The NNEDV Board unanimously selected Vagins.

Read Deborah Vagins’ bio below.

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NNEDV, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is a leading voice for survivors of domestic violence and their allies. Its members include the 56 state and territorial coalitions against domestic violence whose experiences expand and inform our understanding of domestic violence survivors and advocacy programs. NNEDV has been a premiere national organization advancing the movement to end domestic violence for nearly 30 years, and led efforts among domestic violence advocates and survivors in urging Congress to pass the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994. To learn more about NNEDV, please visit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 23, 2019, 9 a.m. EDT
CONTACT: Jenny Backus, Chair, NNEDV Board of Directors
PHONE: 202-248-5466 x117
EMAIL: BoardChair [at] NNEDV [dot] org


Deborah J. Vagins Bio

Deborah brings with her to NNEDV decades of experience as a guiding voice in civil, women’s, and human rights legal and policy advocacy, with a focus on economic and racial justice issues. 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 government relations, legal advocacy, and research department 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. Most recently, she helped to 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.

Deborah frequently lectures, speaks at press conferences and rallies, and has made appearances on The TODAY Show and NBC Nightly News and in Glamour, USA Today, Time, the New Republic, The New York Times, C-SPAN, TIME, 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 work in civil and women’s rights.

Before AAUW, Deborah was a Chief of Staff and Principal Attorney Advisor at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Ms. Vagins 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 the Department of Labor’s executive order banning punitive pay secrecy policies in federal contracting and the Department of Education’s racial disparities in school discipline guidance. She co-chaired several national civil rights coalitions advocating for passage of federal bills, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Democracy Restoration Act. 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 graduated magna cum laude from the Washington College of Law at American University, 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.