MAY 2017 | Washington Lawyers' Committee eNewsletter
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Dear <<Salutation>>,

In July of last year, I had the honor of succeeding the iconic Rod Boggs as executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. Just prior to taking on that role, I joined many of you at the 2016 Wiley A. Branton Award Luncheon. I look forward to joining you again on June 7th, when we convene to celebrate the last year and honor those that have made an important difference in the cause of civil rights.

Our ability to make a difference would not be possible without the generous contributions of our supporters. Sponsorships, tables, and tickets are still available here. Please also see a list of our generous sponsors at the end of this newsletter.

Jonathan Smith
Executive Director, Washington Lawyers' Committee

If you or someone you know has experienced any act of hate or bias because of their race, gender, national origin, religion, or disability, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee is ready to help. Please contact us at 202-319-1000. Click here for more information.
$7.5 Million Walmart Class Action Settlement
Cotes
Prior to 2014, Walmart did not offer health insurance to same-sex spouses of its employees. That meant Jackie Cote could not insure her wife Dee, who passed away in March 2016 after battling ovarian cancer. Due to Walmart’s policy, Jackie and Dee endured more than $150,000 in medical expenses, calls from bill collectors, and many long nights up worrying.

This month, a federal judge approved the $7.5 million class action settlement benefiting Ms. Cote and a class of Walmart associates in the United States and Puerto Rico who were unable to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses from Walmart from 2011 through 2013. Cote v. Wal-Mart is the first class action filed on behalf of gay workers since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. The action began when the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed a complaint on Ms. Cote’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014. The EEOC determined that Walmart’s treatment of Ms. Cote constituted unlawful sex discrimination and issued a right to sue letter. Former Washington Lawyers’ Committee Deputy Litigation Director Peter Romer-Friedman and the team at Outten & Golden were pivotal in obtaining the groundbreaking settlement. The outstanding settlement also would not have been possible without the resources and litigation expertise of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.
Sanctuary School Guidance
DC Schools
DC Attorney General Karl Racine issued guidance to DC schools regarding their obligation to ensure that immigrant children have equal access to and education in an environment free of unnecessary fear of deportation. Several Mayer Brown attorneys, led by Alex Lakatos and Emily Horn, along with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s Kent Withycombe, provided assistance to AG Racine in drafting the guidance. Please share it widely with your networks.

As Racine noted, “DC schools serve students from at least 160 countries, and their well-being is essential to the entire District….Regardless of citizenship or immigration status, we are all afforded certain rights under the Constitution, as well as under District and federal laws—and all children have the right to a free primary and secondary education.”
Housing Discrimination
Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin once said, “The proof that one truly believes is in action.” We are immensely grateful for the actions taken by our 2017 honorees:

This year’s Branton Award will be presented by Representative John Lewis to former Attorney General Eric J. Holder, Jr. for his career of service to the cause of civil rights and equal justice.

Thomas S. Williamson Jr., a dear friend of the Committee and passionate advocate for racial justice and civil rights, died far too young earlier this year. He will be remembered with the inaugural Rod Boggs Award for sustained commitment to the Committee and its clients.

ONE DC will receive the Alfred McKenzie Award for its dedication and courage in organizing communities to fight displacement and racial segregation in the District, and also for its collaboration with the Committee on groundbreaking litigation.

For 21 years, the U.S. Courts for the D.C. Circuit has maintained a partnership with J.O. Wilson Elementary School. We will recognize the Court’s commitment to tutoring and mentoring countless students with the Vincent E. Reed Award.


Finally, we partnered with dozens of firms, businesses, and organizations this year–each made a meaningful difference. Eleven stand out for their outstanding achievements: Akin Gump Hauer Strauss & Feld LLP, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, Bread for the City, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Hogan Lovells US LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Outten & Golden LLP, Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, Perkins Coie LLP, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and Veris Consulting, Inc.

 
Branton Luncheon Sponsorships, Tables, and Tickets are Available Here
More May News
  • There are just 5 days left to donate to your firm’s Associates Campaign! We are more than halfway to our goal of $100,000, which represents the cost of 1 experienced WLC staff attorney for 1 year. Participate now.
  • We had a lovely Founders’ Reception on May 8 with many of our supporters. Thank you to Tersh Boasberg for hosting and to everyone who joined us.
  • Nearly 100 people from school partnership firms, schools, and parent teacher groups attended an inspiring School Partnership Recruiting Luncheon on May 10, where we talked about the exciting array of activities that our school partnerships support and about our Parent Empowerment Program. Many thanks to Arent Fox for hosting and to Akin Gump for catering.
  • More than 220 students from DCPS schools in every Ward, plus school partnership coaches, teachers, and parents converged at the National Portrait Gallery on May 16 for the Spring GeoPlunge Tournament.
  • On May 12, Akin Gump hosted a discussion with Antwan Wilson, the new DCPS Chancellor, who expressed tremendous enthusiasm for the necessary work that our School Partnership and Parent Empowerment Programs are doing in many of the lowest-income school communities in the District. 35 Committee Board Members, CAB members, and other representatives of firms involved in our Education Project engaged in an in-depth dialog with the Chancellor about the challenges of further improving the District’s school system on an equitable basis.
  • Jonathan Smith expressed concern about the Department of Justice’s integrity being eroded by the President and Attorney General.
  • The Committee applauded Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s immigration guidance “to local police on their legal obligations under the Constitution and laws to avoid discrimination in the delivery of police services.”
  • The Committee signed on in support of the Raise the Wage Act of 2017, which will raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.
Fight Injustice & Inequality with WLC: Volunteer and Pro Bono Opportunities
Workers' Rights Clinic June Schedule
Interested in becoming a Clinic volunteer? Fill out this form. Email Heather Kryzak for more information about Clinic.
  • Wednesdays, June 7, 14, 21, and 28, from 6–9 p.m., at Bread for the City, 1525 Seventh Street NW
  • Fridays, June 2 and 16, from 12–4 p.m. at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program office at 2811 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
  • Saturday, June 24, from 10 a.m.–1 p.m., at Bread for the City, 1640 Good Hope Road SE
Branton Sponsors
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