Pro Bono Project Wins Frances Perkins Award – Legal Announcement Service

(New Orleans, LA ) – LawFuel – Legal Jobs & Legal Announcement Service – On Monday evening, September 8th, 2008 The Pro Bono Project (The Project) received notification that its Employment Law/Wage Claim Program was the recipient of the ABA’s Section of Labor & Employment Law (ABA LEL)/Pro Bono Committee’s 2008 Frances Perkins Public Service Award for excellence.

The Project’s Executive Director, Rachel Piercey and Board member William Lurye, Esq., now based in Washington, DC and instrumental in mentoring and fundraising for the program, accepted the award at the ABA’s LEL Section CLE Conference in Denver, CO on Thursday, September 11th. Special acknowledgement goes to TPBP’s staff attorney Vanessa Spinazola and to program sponsors Oxfam America, the ABA’s LEL and others.

” This is a tremendous honor for The Pro Bono Project and we are grateful to the ABA’s Labor and Employment Law section for this acknowledgement. The Board and staff have worked hard to develop this much needed program and without the collaborative efforts of many and the funding of Oxfam America, the ABA and others, we would not have had such great success in so short a time period,” said Executive Director, Rachel Piercey.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to metropolitan New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, the area experienced exponential growth in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking workers and day-laborers. The need for these workers is great but the transient nature of the contractors and construction businesses, who began flooding the area post-Katrina, set up the potential abuse of these non-English speaking workers.,

The mission of The Project is to provide civil legal services to the needy through the pro bono services of the private bar and the organization began to see an increase in labor and wage related legal claims, a direct result of this increased immigrant workforce. The Project soon became the key legal service provider to this emerging population.

However, since this was not a legal area that The Project had previously served, the Executive Committee and the Board of The Project undertook the necessary internal review to determine how the organization would handle this. Ultimately, The Board determined to expand the services of The Project to include a Labor and Employment Law Program, as well as fund a staff Labor/Employment attorney to manage the program and the volunteer attorneys who would service clients. In the summer of 2007, attorney Vanessa Spinazola was hired to direct the program. Initial funding came from a grant from Oxfam America, the ABA Labor & Employment Section and several other individuals and organizations.

The Pro Bono Project’s Employment Law Program, working cooperatively with Catholic Charities, The Interfaith Worker Justice Center and the Congreso Jornalero of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, is providing the consistent, quality civil legal services to this new and continually emerging and underserved sector of the post-Katrina population.

Since instituting and funding the Labor and Employment Law Program in August 2007, The Pro Bono Project has realized many positive outcomes. While all are important among them are two significant results that must be noted here:

• The Project has served more than 332 clients with Labor and Employment Law issues in 93 cases with an average of 3.5 clients per case. To date, they have resolved 46 of these cases. What is significant is that in less than a year, they have served such a large number of clients. Most new programs, such as The Project’s, have a significant learning curve and the start up time involved can be lengthy, resulting in low, first year caseload. These numbers show that The Project was able to hit the ground running, and it is a credit to their ability to marshal experienced resources locally and nationally and provide a platform for a collaborative effort.

• One of their cases, filed on behalf of a group of Honduran immigrant workers, has become the basis for a landmark ruling signed by Federal Judge Helen ‘Ginger’ Berrigan granting U-Visa certification for 6 workers detained as a result of an immigration raid on their place of employment. This is the first time that a Federal Judge has signed such an order. This case (Garcia v Audubon Communities, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31221 (E.D. La. Apr. 15, 2008) is a collaborative effort of The Pro Bono Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with additional support from National Employment Law Project, the Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, and the National Immigration Law Center.

For a PDF of the full nomination narrative, which outlines the process of establishing The Project’s Employment Law and Wage Claim Program and its success to date, please send an email to [email protected] with Perkins PDF in the subject line.

About The Frances Perkins Award
The need for pro bono services in the labor and employment area is acute. Questions relating to labor and employment law account for more than a quarter of the issues raised in many pro bono programs.

As a result, in 2003 the Section established the Frances Perkins Public Service Award. Named after Frances Perkins, appointed in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt as Secretary of Labor and instrumental in the birth of the Social Security Act, the Award recognizes individuals or organizations that demonstrate a significant commitment to providing pro bono legal services primarily in the areas of labor and employment law to persons of limited means or to nonprofit, governmental, civic, community or religious organizations designed primarily to address the needs of individuals with limited means.

For more information on The Frances Perkins Service Award, please visit: click on the 2008 Frances Perkins Service Award PDF in the top right sidebar on the page.

Past recipients include: Wendy Brenner, Esq. of Cooley Godward Kronish in Palo Alto; Carrie Gargas, Esq. and the Unemployment Insurance for Battered Women Project in Seattle; the Employment Justice Center in Washington, DC; and Michael Banks, Esq., Morgan Lewis & Bochius in Philadelphia.

For more information on The Pro Bono Project and its Employment Law and Wage Claim Program, log on to http://www.probono-no.orgor contact Rachel Piercey, Executive Director at 504.581.4043.

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