Legal Momentum News Brief - February/March 2016

Legal Momentum News Brief - February/March 2016

March 14, 2016 - 09:50 -- Jean Gazis
March 14, 2016

Legal Momentum Works to End Exploitation of Children

Legal Momentum is a forceful presence to stop enterprises that facilitate exploitation of at-risk women and children. Legal Momentum is working with direct service providers and anti-trafficking groups in Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis, Florida, and New York. This work will protect vulnerable victims of exploitation, and launch innovative initiatives to stem these abuses, by identifying risk factors, putting protections in place, formulating lasting solutions, and supporting survivors.

Toward that end, on March 10, Legal Momentum published an op-ed in the Seattle Times, “Congress must lead charge on Backpage.com sex ads,” by President and CEO Carol Robles-Román and Executive VP and Legal Director Penny Venetis. The op-ed highlights the urgent need to eliminate commercial sexual exploitation of minors on “adult services” websites that carry online classified advertising. These ads have been linked to commercial sexual exploitation of minors. One such entity under fire is Backpage.com, which Congress is considering holding in contempt for failing to appear at a hearing last fall. Legal Momentum advocates that “Congress and the Justice Department should take an aggressive stance,” pointing out that Washington State and Seattle area law enforcement have been leaders in the fight against online sex trafficking. The op-ed urges U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to use these groundbreaking tactics nationwide, declaring, “No individual or corporation is above the law, and no business should profit from child rape.”

On the same day Legal Momentum published its op-ed, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof also wrote a column, “Every Parent’s Nightmare,” advocating the same action against Backpage.com called for by Legal Momentum.

Angie Welfare Gets Justice for Herself and All Pregnant Workers

Angie Welfare

Angie Welfare, a heroine in the fight for justice for all pregnant women of color, recently settled a pregnancy discrimination case with American Airlines. It was a long struggle that started in May 2006, when, just eight weeks into her pregnancy, the former American Airlines Fleet Services employee was forced to take unpaid leave—without health benefits—for more than a year. Ms. Welfare, who worked in the freight department, asked for temporary light duty because of her doctor’s advice to avoid heavy lifting. American Airlines refused her request for this reasonable accommodation, claiming it was only for those injured on the job.

Ms. Welfare’s situation and claim are very similar to that of Peggy Young, the Maryland UPS driver whose pregnancy discrimination claim was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015 and whom Legal Momentum also supported. Ms. Young, like Ms. Welfare, was denied a light duty accommodation that was available to non-pregnant employees.

In August 2006, Legal Momentum and co-counsel Deborah H. Karpatkin filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Unfortunately, justice for Ms. Welfare was long delayed because American Airlines filed for bankruptcy. Ms. Welfare never gave up, however, and continued to be a strong advocate for herself and other women. In 2013, she testified before the New York City Council to advocate for the City’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which was unanimously passed and took effect in January, 2014. Council members specifically thanked her for her advocacy, and she and Legal Momentum were invited to the law’s signing ceremony. Ms. Welfare has also spoken out in many venues and in the media on behalf of the rights of all pregnant workers.

In thanking Legal Momentum for taking her case, Ms. Welfare stated: “Imagine planning to have a baby with no job or income. I feared I would not be able to continue my prenatal care or have a safe delivery because my medical coverage ran out. How do you defend yourself when you become speechless at the most critical time in your life? Legal Momentum was the light at the end of the tunnel for my family and me.”

Legal Momentum Briefs Members of Congress on Workplace Domestic Violence

Congressional briefing panel

On February 25, Legal Momentum joined with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), sponsors of the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act. Lisalyn Jacobs, Legal Momentum’s Vice President for Government Relations, moderated a panel discussion to educate legislators about the need for safe leave and other employment protections from the perspective of employers, law enforcement, survivors, and domestic violence advocates. Victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are uniquely vulnerable to employment discrimination, and this has grave ramifications for the economy as a whole. The panelists were Grace Huang, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence/Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence; Shirley Schreffler, Prince Georges County Department of Social Services, Md.; Shereen Cade Jackson, Yvette Cade Fund; Joan Meier, DV Leap; Linda A. Seabrook, Futures Without Violence; and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce. Materials about Legal Momentum’s model workplace policy, This Workplace Is a DV-Free Zone, were distributed at the briefing.  For more information on how your organization can adopt Legal Momentum’s model policy, call 212-925-6635, visit www.legalmomentum.org/dv-free-zone, or email info@legalmomentum.org.

Photo, L-R: Linda Seabrook, Shirley Schreffler, Joan Meier, Grace Huang, Shereen Cade Jackson, Lisalyn Jacobs (at podium); Credit: Wendy Gutierrez/Futures Without Violence

NJEP Educates Communities and Courts on Teen Dating Violence

In February, Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) released a groundbreaking set of publications on teen dating violence. Teen dating violence is a growing epidemic that is as harmful, and potentially as lethal, as adult domestic violence. Unchecked, it can entrench lifelong patterns for both abusers and victims. NJEP’s work presents an opportunity for judges, courts, and court-related professionals to protect victims, intervene with perpetrators, and educate the communities they serve on prevention. The publications are:

These publications were developed by NJEP under a grant from the Department of Justice Office of Violence against Women (OVW) to provide an introduction to the issues involved in teen dating violence and its intersections with other areas of the law. Legal Momentum is making these resources freely available to all, including court professionals, schools, parents, teens, and the community. For more information, email info@legalmomentum.org, call 212-925-6635, or visit www.legalmomentum.org/njep-resources-teen-dating-violence.

Legal Momentum Joins Campaign for Paid Family Leave in N.Y. State

Legal Momentum joined numerous community-based organizations and Governor Andrew Cuomo in the “Strong Families, Strong New York” campaign in February to fight for passage of paid family leave in New York State. The proposal for 12 weeks of paid benefits to allow workers to care for new children or seriously ill relatives is an important step forward for women and working families. If passed, it would ensure that working parents never have to choose between caring for their families and making ends meet, and will be the most robust such policy in the nation. “The employee doesn’t have the same amount of power, doesn’t have the same amount of respect in the workplace. So we say, paid family leave because there should be a balance between work and family and your life,” said Governor Cuomo.

“New York continues to lead the nation in promoting equal rights and opportunity for all,” said Carol Robles-Roman, Legal Momentum’s President and CEO. “We applaud Governor Cuomo in his fight for paid family leave and urge the State Legislature to pass his plan this session.”

Meet Legal Momentum’s New Legal Team Members

LM staff, volunteers and alumnae at Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture

Iliana Konidaris, Staff Attorney

Iliana Konidaris joined Legal Momentum in March as a Staff Attorney. She works on a range of issues, including human trafficking, campus sexual assault, domestic violence, and employment discrimination. Prior to joining Legal Momentum, she was a civil rights litigator at Giskan Solotaroff Anderson and Stewart LLP, a New York firm, where she represented women in class action and individual employment discrimination suits. She earned her J.D. at Washington University School of Law, where she co-lectured the undergraduate course Women and the Law. She also represented victims of domestic violence through the Civil Justice Clinic and represented women in employment discrimination cases as a summer fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. Iliana interned in Kathmandu, Nepal at the Forum for Women, Law and Development to combat human trafficking. She received her B.A. from Haverford College. 

Jennifer Becker, Staff Attorney

Jennifer will join Legal Momentum as a Staff Attorney who will focus on judicial education on gender justice issues, and training victim advocates to help their clients navigate the criminal justice system. She will also work on Legal Momentum’s efforts to end the “culture of complacency” in the criminal justice system towards victims of sexual assault. She was previously the Title IX Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education, where she ensured compliance with gender equity laws. After graduating from the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, Jennifer served as a prosecutor in Bronx County, N.Y. for nearly seven years, where she specialized in prosecuting sexual assault, handling hundreds of cases through every stage of prosecution. Jennifer earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Quinnipiac University. While still an undergraduate, Jennifer conducted psychological research on gender-based violence and trauma and published two independent research articles. Jennifer is an active member of the New York City Bar Association Domestic Violence Committee and co-chair of the New York County Lawyers’ Association Women in Law Committee.

Caitlin McCartney, Legal Momentum’s First Gender Justice Fellow

Caitlin McCartney joined Legal Momentum in February as a Gender Justice Fellow. Her work will focus on access to justice for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and campus sexual assault. Previously, Caitlin worked on discrimination in employment and education as a Civil Rights Fellow at the New York State Office of the Attorney General.

As a student at the University of North Carolina School of Law, Caitlin worked in the Immigration Clinic to secure immigra-tion relief for victims of domestic violence. She was an editor on the North Carolina Journal of International Law and Com-mercial Regulation, and interned with Legal Momentum and the National Women’s Law Center. In addition to her J.D., Caitlin has an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and a B.A. from Davidson College.

Photo: LM staff and alumnae at the New York City Bar’s annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture. L-R: Lena Barsky, Iliana Konidaris, Jennifer Becker, Caitlin McCarthy, Carol Robles-Román, Eliana Theodorou, Penny Venetis, Maryann Gallagher

National Judicial Education Program Goes Global

Lynn Hecht Schafran with Marjory Fields and Japanese Visitors

Under its International Visitor Leadership Program, the United States State Department asked Legal Momentum Senior Vice President and Director of the National Judicial Education Program Lynn Hecht Schafran to meet with women’s groups from Japan and Russia to talk about U.S. approaches to human rights law related to gender justice in February. The Japanese visitors were interested in how the United States deals with cases under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Lynn invited New York Judge (ret.) Marjory Fields to join her for this meeting. The Russian advocates were in the United States as part of a three-week program titled “Combating Gender-Based Violence in the Russian Periphery,” seeking to gain exposure to “best practices” in the United States that they can adapt for use in their home countries. Lynn also met with a Churchill Scholar from Australia, Kate Fitz Gibbon, for whom she organized meetings with judges who preside in New York City’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts.

Photo, L-R: Yumi Ohtsuki, Lynn Hecht Schafran, Hon. Marjory Fields, Yumi Kito, Makiko Mizuuchi

Legal Momentum Urges Congress to Act to Reform Family Courts

Legal Momentum joined many other women’s and children’s advocacy organizations to demand that Congress reform the family courts. Approximately 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence and/or child abuse each year. Gender stereotypes often fuel the perception that women’s and children’s allegations of abuse are fabricated. Indeed, courts order approximately 58,000 U.S. children into the unsafe care of abusive parents over the objections of caring parents. To fix this situation, Legal Momentum has asked for a Congressional Concurrent Resolution to propel critical change in state courts and legislatures. The Resolution calls for:

  • making child safety the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications;
  • having courts consider only qualified expert testimony and sound scientific evidence; and
  • Congressional hearings on violations of human and civil rights of women and children in state family courts that receive federal funding. 

Carol Robles-Román stated, “Legal Momentum supports the call for this Resolution because reform in the family courts is urgent. Children’s lives are being put at risk every day and family courts must stand ready to protect them.”

Lynn Hecht Schafran, Director of Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program and author of “Domestic Violence, Developing Brains and the Lifespan: New Knowledge from Neuroscience,” observed that research has shown that many judges, attorneys, and custody evaluators have little understanding of how domestic violence impacts children, and how awarding custody, joint custody, and unsupervised visitation to abusive parents damages children.

Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence Updated with Legal Momentum’s Help

The National Judicial Education Program has updated the chapter on intimate partner sexual abuse (IPSA) for an important publication from the New York Unified Court System. NJEP Director Lynn Hecht Schafran rewrote the chapter, “When Domestic Violence Victims Are Sexually Assaulted: Meeting the Challenges,” in the sixth edition of the Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence. The new edition was published in December, 2015 and edited by Mary Rothwell Davis, Ms. Schafran’s co-author for the NJEP web course on IPSA. Ms. Schafran and former NJEP Program Associate Eliana Theodorou worked with Ms. Davis to update the chapter, which draws upon NJEP’s web course and refers readers to specific modules for additional information. The web course is available free of charge at www.njep-ipsacourse.org. The Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, 6th Ed., is available from the New York Courts website

Legal Momentum Board Member Loria Yeadon Joins Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.’s National Board

Legal Momentum Board Member Loria Yeadon has been named to the National Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. for the 2014-2017 triennium. Loria is the CEO of Yeadon IP LLC and an intellectual property executive and general manager with nearly 25 years of experience in multiple high-tech industries. Her business background includes high-level positions at Intellectual Ventures and Honeywell. She is a board member for various high-profile, nonprofit, and academic organizations, and a champion of the rights of women and girls. In August 2015, she organized a screening and panel discussion of the acclaimed film The Hunting Ground in Bellevue, Washington, to raise awareness about campus sexual assault and create dialog around innovative solutions to end this growing epidemic.

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