EEOC attorney finds creative ways to uphold antidiscrimination laws

Thursday - 8/21/2014, 6:27pm EDT

Listen to an interview with Sammies finalist Robert Canino, a Dallas-based EEOC attorney, on In Depth with Francis Rose.

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Robert A. Canino has spent nearly three decades as a litigation attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In that time, he has been a tireless advocate for the underdog, coming up with creative ways to prosecute employers and protect employees from discrimination.

David Lopez, general counsel of the EEOC, called Canino the most creative attorney the commission has.

"What he's done has been a reaffirmation of equal opportunity and fairness," Lopez said. "He's been a leader and my hero in helping out the most vulnerable people in society."

For the way Canino uses civil rights law to prosecute human trafficking, Partnership for Public Service, which recently named Borg as one of the finalists for the 2014 Career Achievement Medal. The award recognizes a federal employee who has made significant contributions over a lifetime in public service.

Getting to know Robert Canino

Federal News Radio asked each of the Sammies finalists a list questions about themselves. Here are Canino's responses:

What words best describe your leadership philosophy?
"Let's try it!" The approach I like to take is to field the ideas people put forth, apply them in at least a limited fashion, and evaluate the results to determine broader or longer application. It means we have to be willing to take a little risk and show some patience. As responsive public servants seeking the best for America, I feel that our jobs give us the freedom and impetus to push for what is right for America, without being daunted by a fear of falling short. We should defy the mantra of, "That's the way we've always done it, and it has been working just fine." The double entendre to this philosophy is that as a trial lawyer who is aggressively seeking the benefits of our country's great judicial system, I encourage our attorneys to boldly pursue courtroom justice by "trying" cases.

What's the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you've ever received and who gave it to you?
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." King Solomon in Proverbs 3:5. It is said that Solomon was the wisest of all men. Well, that has certainly been confirmed by the truth in this advice, as it has played out for me and my family when making the most important decisions in both my personal and professional life.

Who is your greatest role model and why?
I hope it doesn't sound too corny to say that my role model(s) would be the tandem of my mom and dad, but it couldn't be more true. My father, Robert, who had a riches-to-rags story growing up in Puerto Rico, survived the streets of Spanish Harlem NYC, in the '50s, and then become a prominent civil rights advocate for Hispanics in Texas in the '60s, was caught up in the first waves of hire into the EEOC as a federal public servant. He has since met presidents and testified at the United Nations, gone back to school in his 70s, and is still working zealously with the community. My mom, Edna, a Mexican-American, started her life on ranchland in South Texas, and despite economic hardship and discrimination, persevered to later return to college and earn a law degree as a middle-aged mother of two. She is a now the smartest attorney I know and manages to earn a combined respect, appreciation or affection seldom shown to lawyers. Their combined story has become mine, but they have done their best to make sure I could do it without many of the obstacles they had to overcome.

What's the last thing you read and what's next on your reading list?
I last read "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell. The book I look forward to reading next is one being written by New York Times "This Land" columnist, Dan Barry. Although not yet titled, it will be a heart- wrenching story about the lives of intellectually disabled young men who were released from institutions in Texas only to endure decades of abuse, exploitation and confinement at the hands of an employer. Years after being freed, they then went on to win a historic jury verdict in 2013, and now spend their days playing catch-up while trying to blend back into a world they never really knew.

The Career Achievement Medal is just one of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) presented annually by the Partnership for Public Service. View a photo gallery of all the Sammies nominees.