A young woman who had recently lost her job with an international retail chain will receive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to which she is entitled, thanks to Craig A. Schwartz, an associate at Baker Botts L.L.P. Craig accepted her case for pro bono representation by referral from Legal Aid. The client had earlier appeared pro se before the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), where she prevailed in her claim for UI benefits. But her former employer challenged the award in the D.C. Court of Appeals, which was when Craig and his colleagues stepped in to help out.
This victory is a great example of the effective pro bono partnerships that Legal Aid’s Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project has formed with law firms throughout the city. It is difficult for anyone to fight an appeal in D.C.’s highest court without counsel, even—as was the case here—where the individual, unrepresented, had won her case at the administrative level. The critical representation that pro bono lawyers provide is making justice real for their clients and helping to close the justice gap for low-income individuals and families throughout our community.
In this case, the client had applied for UI benefits after resigning from her position. Though initially denied benefits by the D.C. Department of Employment Services for having left her job voluntarily, the client filed an appeal with OAH and prevailed after showing that she had resigned due to her employer’s repeated failure to pay her for overtime she had been required to work. The employer appealed the OAH decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Supervised by Baker Botts partner Stanley R. Soya, Craig drafted a motion to dismiss the appeal in its entirety. Craig also informed opposing counsel that his client would release any potential claims for overtime if the employer dropped its appeal. The employer agreed to dismiss the case, and the D.C. Court of Appeals approved the parties’ resolution of the matter, thus preserving the OAH decision providing much-needed safety net benefits to the client while she looked for a new job. The client is now happily employed with a different company.
This is the second pro bono case that Craig has accepted from Legal Aid in the past year, both of which resulted in successful outcomes. Said Craig:
Working with Legal Aid has continued to be a rewarding experience. In this case, the client truly benefited from having the resources of a private law firm at her disposal in negotiating with opposing counsel. She was, without question, entitled to the UI benefits in dispute. Having diligently found a new job after leaving her old one only because she had not been paid, as the ALJ previously found, our client’s experience should have been a textbook example of how the D.C. social safety net should operate. It is unfortunate we even had to get involved in this case, but I am gratified that we achieved justice in the most tangible way for our client.
Effective legal representation resulted in a complete and timely resolution of this matter. Legal Aid applauds Craig and his colleagues at Baker Botts for providing the vital and zealous representation that this client needed and deserved.