Tom Perez is a proven leader who has spent his life standing up for progressive values and making real change happen at the local, statewide, and national levels.
For the last three years, Tom has served as the 26th U.S. Secretary of Labor, working to reignite the department’s fight to protect and expand opportunities for American workers. Under his leadership, the Labor Department has fought to secure collective bargaining rights, better wages and overtime pay, and the opportunity for middle-class families to retire comfortably and securely.
But Tom’s story doesn’t start at Labor.
The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Tom grew up in Buffalo where he learned the values of a union town: hard work, integrity, service, and perseverance. Having lost his father when he was 12, Tom understood early in life never to take a day for granted, and that urgency has driven him to spend his life in public service.
After high school, Tom put himself through college earning tuition money on the back of a garbage truck, went to law school, and started his career as a civil rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. There, he fought to protect and expand opportunity for all Americans. While prosecuting some of the Department's most high-profile civil rights cases, Tom saw firsthand the effects of hate and bigotry, and he fought to ensure that our justice system held accountable those who would violate the civil and constitutional rights of their fellow Americans.
Later on, Tom was special counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy, advising him on civil rights, criminal justice, and constitutional issues. He worked with Senator Kennedy to fight discriminatory laws like the Defense of Marriage Act. And as African-American churches were being burned to the ground in the late ‘90s, Tom and Senator Kennedy worked to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act, making it a federal crime to commit arson or vandalism against a place of worship.
Tom also served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Janet Reno and led the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the end of the Clinton administration.
Tom returned to the Department of Justice in 2009 after President Obama was elected, serving as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Leading the Civil Rights division after the Bush administration had decimated it, Tom oversaw the effort to restore and expand the division's achievements.
With his leadership, they successfully implemented the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act; protected equal housing opportunity by pursuing and resolving the largest fair-lending cases in history; helped ensure schoolchildren are free from discrimination, bullying and harassment; dramatically expanded access to employment, housing and educational opportunities by fighting for people with disabilities; defended Americans’ right to vote free from discrimination; took record-setting efforts to ensure that communities have effective and accountable policing; and safeguarded the employment, housing, fair lending and voting rights of service members. Tom expanded the division's partnerships, working across federal agencies to address shared challenges in human trafficking, employment discrimination and fair lending, among others.
Tom’s also been a local leader and organizer, running and winning a seat on the Montgomery County Council. He was the first Latino elected to the council, serving from 2002 until 2006, and was Council president. He then served as Secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. In 2002, Tom started as board president at CASA de Maryland, an organization that provides services to immigrants. Under his leadership, CASA experienced monumental growth - from the basement of a church to a $7M headquarters that opened without a lease - and grew from a service provider to one of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in the country.
Tom received a bachelor's degree from Brown University in 1983. In 1987, he received a master's of public policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a law degree from Harvard Law School. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Ann Marie Staudenmaier, who is an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and their three children.