Legal Momentum News Brief - October/November 2015

Legal Momentum News Brief - October/November 2015

December 7, 2015 - 10:58 -- Jean Gazis
December 7, 2015

Legal Momentum Champions Domestic Violence Survivors in the Workplace

Legal Momentum has been spearheading important work supporting the rights of domestic violence survivors in the workplace, and has been working with employers on how best to implement employment policies that are fair, safe, and accommodating for survivors of violence. Legal Momentum has developed a model domestic violence workplace policy that simply and succinctly integrates the best practices of hundreds of policies we reviewed. There have been several recent legal and policy developments that reinforce the importance of all workplaces implementing effective policies and educating and training all employees.

On November 18, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement with Bon-Ton Stores, a retail chain with more than 200 stores nationwide, for sending an employee home when she reported to her supervisor that she was a victim of domestic violence. The story was covered in The New York Times, which extensively quoted Legal Momentum's Executive Vice President and Legal Director, Penny Venetis.

As Penny told the Times, sending home a worker who has been threatened is "often the most dangerous response an employer could choose." Under the settlement, Bon-Ton is obligated to implement policies to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to victims of domestic violence, as required by New York state law. As Penny also pointed out, domestic violence is a serious workplace issue, causing millions of days of lost work and billions of dollars in lost productivity every year. Yet nearly two-thirds of employers have no formal domestic violence workplace policy, and too often, victims are unaware of their rights.

To ensure that employers, both large and small, do not endanger domestic violence victims further, Legal Momentum is working with private and public employers all over the country to implement Legal Momentum's model workplace policy. The policy protects victims, co-workers, and employers. It helps employers handle situations where an employee is a domestic violence victim or perpetrator. Indeed, in October—Domestic Violence Awareness Month—Legal Momentum challenged everyone to bring our "This Workplace Is a DV-Free Zone Bill of Rights" to their employers and urge them to adopt our Domestic Violence Model Policy. We also encouraged sharing of the Bill of Rights and facts on domestic violence in the workplace on social media using the hashtag #DVFreeZone. For more information, visit our website or email info@legalmomentum.org.

Legal Momentum Settles Important Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Legal Momentum, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) have reached a settlement in a discrimination case on behalf of our client, Officer Lori Ann DiPalo. After Legal Momentum filed a claim on Officer DiPalo's behalf, the EEOC found that the TBTA wrongfully reassigned Officer DiPalo—a six-year veteran of the agency with a stellar employment record—to low-level duties, soley because she was pregnant.

Officer DiPalo worked as a Bridge and Tunnel Officer on the midnight shift. The TBTA's physician decided—without conducting a medical exam—that Officer DiPalo was "unfit for duty" when she became pregnant, asserting that she was at "risk of abdominal trauma." Officer DiPalo was then told to surrender her firearm and assigned to work in a toll booth instead.

The settlement provides damages for Officer DiPalo. It also supports all women working for the TBTA. The settlement requires the TBTA to revise its policies (including those applicable to third-party contractors) to treat pregnant women the same as other employees.

"Employers should be on notice that Legal Momentum will continue to pursue all pregnancy discrimination, and will stamp out policies and actions that place working women at disadvantages," said Penny Venetis, Legal Momentum's Executive Vice President and Legal Director.

"This settlement is a victory for Officer DiPalo and all other working women," said Carol Robles-Román, President and CEO of Legal Momentum. "Employers cannot arbitrarily remove women from their jobs just because they are pregnant."

Legal Momentum Hosts Reading by Author Linda Hirshman

guests chat at Linda Hirshman reading event

On September 29, Legal Momentum supporters, board members, and staff gathered for a reading and book signing by Linda Hirshman, author of Sisters in Law, the acclaimed joint biography of Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The event was hosted by longtime Legal Momentum supporter Barbara Berger Opotowsky.

Lynn Hecht Schafran, who was Justice Ginsburg's student at Columbia Law School in the 1970s, introduced the author. "This sharply drawn double portrait of the first and second women on the U.S. Supreme Court is riveting," says Schafran. Sisters in Law engagingly tells the contrasting stories of O'Connor and Ginsburg, clearly detailing the legal issues they dealt with. It also describes how Justice Ginsburg worked closely with Legal Momentum (then named the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund) to set priorities and determine strategies for women's rights litigation around the country in the early 1970s. (Photos: Above-Guests chat; Below, L-R: Linda Hirshman, Sharon Nelson of National Women's Political Caucus, Carol Robles-Román)

Linda Hirshman, Sharon Nelson, Carol Robles-Román

 

Carol Robles-Román Is Vital Voices Global Ambassador in Japan

Vital Voices Global Partnership and Bank of America organized the Global Ambassadors Program in Tokyo in October. The program is designed to help women leaders in Japan develop the skills they need to advance Japan's economy and become powerful role models for the next generation. The program pairs Japanese women with senior women leaders from around the world. The weeklong program also featured a public forum, "Women Shine, Women Lead."

Carol Robles-Román was a Vital Voices mentor. She was partnered with mentee Sayaka Murata, co-founder of the Kamonohashi Project, a nonprofit that works to protect child victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation, and to prevent vulnerable women and children from being trafficked. (Photo: Carol Robles-Román with Sayaka Murata)

Carol Robles-Román with Sayaka Murata

Legal Momentum Appointed to NY City Council Young Women's Initiative

Lena Barsky (right) at YWI launch event

Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román has been appointed to the Steering Committee for the New York City Council's Young Women's Initiative (YWI), the nation's first citywide initiative aimed at focusing on the futures of young women of color. Lena Barsky, Program Associate for Legal Momentum's National Judicial Education Program (NJEP), is a member of YWI's Community Support and Opportunity Working Group. Lena attended the news conference announcing the initiative on October 8, alongside members of numerous groups involved in the initiative.

The new project will target African-American and Latino girls and young women in an effort to improve their education and job prospects. It will also ensure that they have access to preventive and reproductive health care. The City Council began the multi-year project by convening the steering committee of community organizations, women's advocates, and policy experts to research the issues affecting young women of color. (Photo: Lena Barsky (right) at the YWI announcement)

Carol Robles-Román Gives Rosalie Wahl Keynote for Minnesota Women Lawyers

Carol Robles-Román with Sara Wahl

Minnesota Women Lawyers held its 21st Annual Rosalie Wahl Leadership Lecture on Tuesday, November 3. The annual lecture was established to honor the late Justice Wahl, the first woman on the Minnesota Supreme Court. The lecture series recognizes women leaders who will inspire tomorrow's leaders. The title of Carol's presentation was Our Shared Wisdom:Women as Agents of Change. At the event, Carol connected with a former Legal Momentum National Judicial Education Program intern, Chelsea Walcker, who is now an associate at Robins Kaplan LLP in Minneapolis. They discussed the great impact Legal Momentum's former interns are having as lawyers around the United States. NJEP worked closely with Justice Wahl and the Minnesota Supreme Court Commission for Gender Fairness in the Courts. (Photo: Carol Robles-Román with Sara Wahl)

NJEP's Innovative Webinars Provide Valuable Insights on Victims of Sexual Violence

On November 12, NJEP Director Lynn Hecht Schafran presented a free webinar titled "Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse—From Teen Dating Violence to Trafficking." This webinar is based on NJEP's extensive web course, Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: Adjudicating This Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases. Funded by the Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women and the State Justice Institute, the web course is available to all, free of charge, at www.njep-ipsacourse.org.

A recording of the webinar, which helps advocates, law enforcement, batterer intervention programs, and court professionals respond effectively to victims of Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse (IPSA), will be available online soon. IPSA—ranging from verbal degradation to rape—is a frequent aspect of domestic violence, with grave consequences. For example, a batterer who subjects his partner to forced sex in addition to physical violence is twice as likely to kill her as a batterer who inflicts physical violence only. That's why professionals who work with IPSA victims must be prepared to provide additional support and services to maintain their personal safety and the safety of their children.

On Thursday, December 10, at 3PM EST, NJEP Project Attorney Claudia Bayliff will give a free webinar, Raped or "Seduced"? How the Language We Use Helps Shape Our Response to Sexual Violence. Although language can never be neutral, all too often, we use the language of consensual sex to describe assaultive acts. This webinar will discuss how we talk and write about the crime of sexual assault and provide useful information and strategies for anyone who interacts with or writes about sexual assault victims. Click here to view the recorded webinar.

National Judicial Education Program Continues to Train Judges Nationwide on Gender Justice-Related Issues

National Judicial Education Program Director and Legal Momentum Vice President Lynn Hecht Schafran presented at several important judicial conferences in October and early November. At the American Judges Association Annual Meeting, Lynn presented on Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: The Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases. NJEP Project Attorney Claudia Bayliff presented Raped or "Seduced"? How Language Helps Shape Our Respose to Sexual Violence. Both presentations are based on materials available on the NJEP website.

At the National Association of Women Judges Annual Conference, Lynn spoke at the opening plenary session on "Gender Bias: How Far We Have Come in 25 Years." (The conference committee chose the title; Lynn explained that NJEP was founded to address gender bias in the courts 35 years ago.)

Lynn and NJEP Program Associate Lena Barsky attended the National Center for State Courts Workshop for State Courts' Points of Contact on Violence against Women, where Lynn gave a presentation about NJEP's resources on sexual assault and the intersection of sexual assault with domestic violence, as well as the kinds of technical assistance that NJEP can provide.

For the Minnesota Administrative Office of the Courts, Lynn, Claudia, and invited experts presented NJEP's two-day Understanding Sexual Violence curriculum for 40 judges. They worked with Minnesota judges and the Minnesota Coalition against Sexual Assault to adapt the program for Minnesota state law and practice. Claudia was also invited to present How Language Helps Shape Our Response to Sexual Violence at Minnesota's annual judicial conference in December.

Legal Momentum Helps State Courts Fight Human Trafficking

Executive Vice President and Legal Director Penny Venetis served as a faculty facilitator at the National Summit on Human Trafficking and the State Courts Human Trafficking Collaborative Workshop on Friday, October 9, in New York City. The session was led by New York Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan Lippman and was attended by delegations from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and other territories. The highly interactive workshop was designed to help judges establish planning frameworks for their state courts to respond to human trafficking. By the end of the day, each state team had developed a detailed action plan to address human trafficking.

National Judicial Education Program Awarded 2-Year OVW Grant

The National Judicial Education Program, a project of Legal Momentum in cooperation with the National Associateion of Women Judges, has been awarded a significant federal grant renewal to continue its work with state and tribal courts. The award by the Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women (OVW) provides $450,000 over two years and will help fund continued training for judges and multidisciplinary court personnel on issues related to violence against women. The grant will enable NJEP to develop new curricula and bring existing training presentations on a wide range of issues, such as intimate partner sexual abuse and teen dating violence, to new audiences. NJEP has been providing groundbreaking training to thousands of judges annually for 35 years.

Rutgers Law Celebrates Beijing+20 with Two Legal Momentum Executives

On September 25, two Legal Momentum lawyers were panelists at the Rutgers School of Law Conference on Gender Equality on the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Executive Vice President and Legal Director Penny M. Venetis, who is also the director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School, was on the first panel, "Looking Back and Ahead: Beijing+20 in Global Perspective." The panel also featured an introductory video message from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Legal Momentum's Vice President for Government Relations, Lisalyn R. Jacobs, was on the panel on Violence.

The conference was sponsored by the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and Policy Institute for Women's Leadership; Rutgers Law School Office of the Chancellor; Rutgers University—Newark Women's Rights Law Reporter; LGBTQ Caucus; Women's Law Forum; and Kinoy-Stavis Fellows. The keynote speaker was feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

Legal Momentum Applauds Reintroduction of the SAFE Act

On October 27, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act of 2015. The act builds on the progress made through legislation such as the landmark Violence against Women Act to break down the economic barriers that domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking create for survivors and their families.

The SAFE Act allows survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking to accrue paid leave, bars the firing of survivors because they are victims of domestic violence, makes survivors who need to leave their jobs eligible for unemployment insurance, and bans discrimination in life and homeowner's insurance against survivors of violence. This legislation is a vitally needed addition to the national conversation about women's needs for responsive workplaces. Legal Momentum's Lisalyn R. Jacobs, Vice President for Government Relations, worked with the sponsors to create a bill that affords survivors the workplace protections that will permit them to thrive as productive and valuable employees.

"The SAFE Act helps both victims of violence and employers. It will ensure that survivors attain economic security so that they, and their children, can escape from abusive situations," said Carol Robles-Román.

Former Board Member Stacy Meisel Appointed as U.S. Judge

Stacey L. Meisel became a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the District of New Jersey on September 24, 2015, the first African-American selected for this position. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Meisel was a founding member of Becker Meisel LLC, now known as Becker LLC. In 1997, Judge Meisel became the first African-American woman to serve as a member of the New Jersey Panel of Bankruptcy Trustees. She remained in this role until her appointment to the bench. Judge Meisel served on the Board of Directors of Legal Momentum from 2014 until her appointment.

Judge Meisel was very active with the Bankruptcy and Federal bars. Prior to her own appointment, she served on the Merit Selection Committees in 2006, 2013, and 2014. In 2014, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey selected her to serve on the state's Court Registry of Mediators. Judge Meisel also served on the Lawyers Advisory Committee to the Board of Judges of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey. In 2013, she was appointed as a Trustee to the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey.

When asked about her appointment, Judge Meisel stated, "I've always wanted to do public service; it's my passion. This will allow me to dedicate myself full-time to promoting equal justice."

A strong believer in social responsibility, Judge Meisel volunteered for the Essex County Volunteer Lawyers for Justice from 2002 until her appointment. She helped launch the New Jersey Bankruptcy Lawyers Foundation in 2004. She also served on the boards of the Children's Home Society of New Jersey and the Newark Boys Chorus School.

Carol Baldwin Moody and Lori Leskin Join Legal Momentum's Board

Carol Baldwin Moody

Carol Baldwin Moody, principal of CAB Moody LLC and a 2011 Aiming High honoree, has more than 30 years of global, industry-awarded experience in risk and compliance management. Carol served as the Senior Portfolio Manager for Investment Compliance and Operational Risk for CalPERS, where she was responsible for developing, implementing, and monitoring investment management compliance and operational risk programs and policies. Prior to serving at CalPERS, she held senior positions at Wilmington Trust Company, Nationwide Insurance, TIAA-CREF, and Citicorp. Carol has spoken frequently on insurance, legal, and compliance topics and is active in many charitable and educational activities. From 2003-2010, she served as director of Carver Bancorp, the nation's largest African American-operated bank. Carol holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lori Leskin

Lori Leskin is Partner and Co-head of the product Liability Group at Kaye Scholer, where she handles all aspects of litigation strategy for complex nationwide and multidistrict litigations involving a variety of products. She is also co-head of the Products Liability Committee of the American Bar Association's Section of Litigation. Lori has received numerous awards and recognitions including being listed in U.S. News & World Report Best Lawyers 2013 and recognized by the Best Lawyers in American 2016. Lori regularly authors, organizes, speaks, and is referenced on a wide range of product liability litigation topics. For her public service work representing death row inmates, Lori received the 2008 Thurgood Marshall award for Capital Representation from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York's Committee on Capital Punishment. She also coaches girls' soccer.

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