“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Labor Day is just around the corner and as we say goodbye to summer, let’s pause to reflect on the meaning of this holiday and celebrate the vast contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. As we’ve previously reported, pro bono lawyers have a critical role to play in protecting workers’ rights and there is still more to be done to secure fair wages, benefits, schedules, and hours, safe conditions, and equality for all in the workplace.
Inspiring and recent examples of labor and employment-related pro bono work performed by Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member Firms and Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatories on behalf of workers include:
• Debevoise & Plimpton* represented a class of black and Hispanic sheet metal workers in a long-standing pro bono case against their union arising from a history of racial and ethnic discrimination. They reached a back pay settlement on behalf of nearly 400 class members who were harmed by disparities in work opportunities between the union’s white and non-white members from 1984 to 1991. The settlement also includes reforms designed to eliminate racial disparities in work opportunities.
• Hogan Lovells*† secured a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a federal air marshal who was fired by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for disclosing information about cost-saving measures that could have potentially endangered public safety (DHS planned to remove air marshals from long-distance flights despite credible hijack threats). The case challenged his dismissal as illegal retaliation, and represents an important victory for whistleblowers everywhere. It reminders us that the Whistleblower Protection Act is a critical safeguard against government abuses.
• A $20 million settlement was reached to resolve numerous labor trafficking lawsuits against Signal International, a marine services company that defrauded and exploited workers from India. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the workers in 2008, but a federal judge refused to let the case go forward as a class action. Fortunately, in an amazing collaborative effort, several large law firms agreed to represent individual workers on a pro bono basis. The firms involved include Covington & Burling*†, Crowell & Moring*, DLA Piper*†, Fredrikson & Byron*†, Kaye Scholer*†, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton*†, Latham & Watkins*†, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips*†, McDermott Will & Emery*†, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager & Flom*†, and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan*†.
In addition to signaling the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day marks our annual tribute to the contributions and achievements of workers. Incredible progress has been made over the years on behalf of workers, but there is still much to be accomplished – securing a living wage for all, closing the gender pay gap, the list goes on. Let’s be grateful this holiday weekend for the progress we have made, but let’s not be satisfied when there is more to be done.
Hat tip to PBI intern Ali Remick for her help with this post.