Eliminating sex discrimination through research, education and legal activities
(Washington, D.C.) In response to extensive and unprecedented threats to women’s rights, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) announced today that it is launching the first national legal network to combat sex discrimination faced by women and girls. The Legal Network for Gender Equity has initially recruited 75 attorneys from across the country who stand ready to represent women and girls experiencing sex discrimination on the job, at school, and in the health care system. The Center is assembling the infrastructure for the network to become fully operational in the next several months and will continue to expand its network—with the goal of attorneys participating in every state.
“I’m thrilled to lead an initiative to increase the resources available to aggressively take on legal challenges and defend women’s rights—especially at this moment when civil rights enforcement and protections are at grave risk,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC President and CEO. “We’ve seen a surge of gender-based hostility and harassment across the nation. Escalating federal rollbacks to critical protections in education, the workplace, and health care—which disproportionately threaten low-income women and women of color—have inspired many lawyers to get involved in the legal network and fight for the rights of women and girls. And, as the Trump administration weakens its enforcement of laws protecting against sex discrimination, NWLC will be heading to court, challenging these rollbacks and increasing the number of cases we take on ourselves.”
The first case arising out of Center intake and taken up by a law firm participating in the Legal Network for Gender Equity is that of Kassandra Lawrence, a veteran law enforcement officer in Stafford, Virginia, who faced discrimination on the job during two pregnancies and after she returned to work following the birth of her children. Lawrence’s superiors refused her requests for work accommodations during her pregnancies, required her to take unpaid leave even though she had additional paid leave time in reserve, and would not allow her colleagues to donate their paid sick leave to her when she required surgery after her second pregnancy. Other employees were routinely given work accommodations and allowed to receive donated paid sick leave. Lawrence lost wages, employment benefits, and experienced emotional distress as a result of the discrimination. The Spiggle Law Firm, which specializes in pregnancy discrimination cases, recently filed a lawsuit on Lawrence’s behalf against the Stafford County Sheriff’s office. Tom Spiggle and Phillis Rambsy, partners at the Spiggle Law Firm, will lead the representation of Lawrence.
The administration’s assaults on the rights of women and girls include: the Department of Health and Human Services’ far-reaching new rules that roll back the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit by extending exemptions that allow employers who claim religious or moral objections to refuse to provide birth control coverage to their employees; the Department of Education’s recent revoking of the 2011 Title IX sexual assault guidance, which will discourage students from reporting sexual assault, create uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law, and make campuses less safe; the Office of Management and Budget’s decision to halt the EEO-1 equal pay data collection, which required large companies to confidentially report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission information about what they pay their employees by job category, sex, race, and ethnicity; the Department of Justice’s recent announcement that LGBT individuals should be excluded from federal sex discrimination protections—counter to prevailing legal trends; and the Department of Labor’s proposal to eliminate the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces the equal opportunity laws that apply to federal contractors. These efforts to weaken enforcement of women’s rights to be free from discrimination make the availability of attorneys willing to take these cases on more important than ever.
The Center will serve as the Network’s hub and first line of contact for women and girls sharing their personal experiences of discrimination and seeking legal information and assistance. The Center will oversee the intake process, provide women and girls legal resources and names of network attorneys who have expressed willingness to take on cases, track trends in complaints over time, and serve as co-counsel in selected cases. It will also provide resources on key legal developments regarding sex discrimination and harassment to Network attorneys and other interested parties, expanding the capacity of the private bar to undertake this work.
Debra Katz, a member of NWLC’s Legal Network for Gender Equity, expert on sex discrimination law, and partner in Katz, Marshall & Banks, hailed the initiative, stating, “NWLC’s leadership has demonstrated to at least two generations of women attorneys, like myself, how to be fierce legal advocates. As members of the Network, my firm and dozens of others in the private bar will help ensure that institutions that seek to deprive us of our basic legal and constitutional rights to equal pay, gender equality, and reproductive rights are held accountable.”
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.