With support from law students and pro bono attorneys, Public Counsel’s Women and Girls’ Rights project provides free legal services to low-income women experiencing discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace or who have questions about their employment rights. We help women file complaints, negotiate with employers, and pursue legal remedies. When clients present with related employment or economic issues, such as wage theft, misclassification, and/or denial of benefits or reasonable accommodations, we address those issues too. Our clients include former foster care youth, transgender women, recent immigrants, women with disabilities, single mothers, and other women in low-wage jobs who have been unfairly treated or abused at work. Our goal is to empower women to stand up and speak out against workplace abuse, and to increase access to justice for those least able to obtain legal representation.
Our Women and Girls’ Rights project works with Public Counsel’s impact litigation team, Opportunity Under Law to bring lawsuits challenging systemic gender discrimination impacting women workers. Some examples include: misclassification, wage theft and egregious sexual harassment of exotic dancers in the nightclub industry; unfair scheduling practices which disproportionately impact women caregivers; and discriminatory practices in California’s workers compensation system. In addition, Public Counsel regularly provides public comment and participates in lawsuits as Amicus, drafting or signing on to legal briefs addressing issues of critical importance to working women, LGBTQIA+, immigrant and low-wage workers.
Public Counsel’s Women and Girls’ Rights project is a member of the National Women’s Law Center Legal Network for Gender Equity. Through this network, Public Counsel provides free consultation and advice to victims of sexual harassment and/or discrimination at work or school, and assists women to access legal services through the network. Public Counsel is also a member of CLIWA – the Coalition for Low-wage and Immigrant Worker Advocates, theCalifornia Work & Family Coalition, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), and the LA-based Fair WorkWeek Coalition. Public Counsel both receives and provides referrals through these community connections.
As a member of the Stronger California Advocates Network, Public Counsel’s Women and Girls’ Rights project works in partnership with community-based organizations and the Legislative Women’s Caucus in Sacramento to promote legislation that strengthens economic security and empowerment for women. Priority areas include poverty reduction, fair pay and work opportunities, family-friendly workplaces, and increased access to affordable, quality childcare, including strengthening laws against sexual harassment, increasing funding for child care, and providing greater workplace protections for domestic workers, warehouse workers and garment workers. We also works closely with the California Work & Family Coalition to advocate for laws extending and strengthening access to paid sick, pregnancy and family medical leave for California workers, especially those in low-wage, hourly jobs.
We advocate with local bodies such as the Los Angeles City Council and County Board of Supervisors to promote the rights and interests of low-income women and girls and bring a “gender lens” to economic and policy debates. Our efforts include working with local unions to protect worker health and safety during the Covid-19 crisis and obtain hazard pay for frontline grocery workers; lobbying for local ordinances to address unfair scheduling practices; and supporting Public Counsel’s broader efforts to legalize street vending in Los Angeles.
Community Outreach and Education
Finally, we recognize the need to increase awareness of women’s rights and the legal resources and remedies available to low-income workers whose rights have been violated. To this end, Public Counsel is building partnerships throughout the community and working with local unions and worker centers to educate women workers about existing State and local protections. Our activities include outreach to community organizations, presentations, and the development and dissemination of “know your rights” materials on a range of issues, from pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, to pay equity and wage theft. Public Counsel was recently awarded a grant from the Santa Monica Westside Legacy Fund to expand access to legal information and services to low-income women living on L.A.’s Westside.