A recent graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a current third-year law student are among the recipients of prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowships, announced this week.
Equal Justice Works is a national organization that supports recent law school graduates and degree candidates who have developed innovative legal projects that can impact lives and serve vulnerable communities in need of legal assistance. Fellowship recipients receive a salary, loan repayment assistance, training and additional support.
2012 Grad to Help Low-Income Mothers Facing Workplace Discrimination
Christine Tschiderer, a 2012 graduate of the Law School, will aid low-income working mothers who have experienced workplace discrimination.
For her two-year fellowship, Tschiderer will launch a new project at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs that will represent working mothers facing pregnancy or caregiver discrimination.
“My project is designed to address these issues holistically, so I will provide direct representation to help women request and negotiate for family-related accommodations and also engage in education and outreach to increase awareness of legal protections for working mothers,” she said.
Currently clerking for Judge Stuart Nash at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Tschiderer said she was thrilled when she heard that she was being named an Equal Justice Works Fellow.
“I couldn’t believe that I was being offered my dream job just two years out of law school,” she said. “I feel incredibly fortunate and I keep pinching myself.”
Tschiderer has been interested in the difficult choices facing working mothers ever since she majored in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. And, she added, she has always been driven to improve the lives of children and families.
“Over time I’ve come to realize that one of the best ways to support strong and healthy children is to advocate for working mothers, who serve as breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American families today,” she said. “Working women provide crucial financial and emotional support to their families, yet too often low-income women who are pregnant or caregivers face losing their jobs to care for their families.”
She said she realized there was a particular need for lawyers to represent low-income working women.
“Although much of the work/family debate has focused on issues facing middle- and upper-class women who are struggling to balance demanding careers and family obligations, low-income mothers have no choice but to work and yet they are often targeted for harassment and poor treatment in the workplace,” she said.
At U.Va., Tschiderer participated in the Child Advocacy Clinic, in which law students represent low-income children across Virginia. The clinic, she said, was an invaluable experience that taught her how to build relationships with clients, develop a case strategy and think outside the box in terms of advocacy.
Andy Block, director of the clinic, worked with Tschiderer for two years, first as his research assistant and then as a clinic student.
“She will be one of those rare and sought-after attorneys who can handle all aspects of litigation at an extremely high level,” Block said. “She is a strong written advocate, engaging and reassuring with all ranges of clients, and very comfortable and poised on her feet in court. I know that she will do great and important work and her clients will be lucky to have her on their side.”
After her first year of law school, Tschiderer worked over the summer at the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C., advocating for laws and policies that protect working women, such as paid sick days, equal pay and protections against discrimination.
The following summer, she worked at a nonprofit organization called Children’s Rights in New York City, focusing on federal class-action lawsuits challenging systemic inadequacies in the child welfare systems on behalf of abused and neglected children in state care.
2014 Degree Candidate to Help Immigrant Survivors of Sex Trafficking, Domestic Violence
Third-year law student Sabrina Talukder plans to use her fellowship to help non-citizen survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence in New York City who are facing possible deportation.
She will launch a new program at the Legal Aid Society of New York City to identify and assist survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence affected by the “Secure Communities” federal immigration law enforcement program, in which the FBI and ICE share information to check whether people who are arrested are present in the country illegally. The program, Talukder said, overlooks whether survivors qualify for legal protection.
“Public defenders lack the training to identify and refer survivors for immigration relief,” she said. “Since most immigration advocates in New York City do not work within [the immigration system], many non-citizen survivors with viable immigration options go unidentified and are deported.”
When she heard recently that she’d been awarded the fellowship, Talukder said she “literally cried for 15 minutes” and then “ate a box of pizza on the floor.”
“It was only after an hour of crying and eating on the floor that I thought I should tell Legal Aid and my family about the fellowship,” she said. “This only led to more crying and pizza-eating. I just couldn’t believe that I had gotten a fellowship!”
Talukder, whose family is from Bangladesh and Myanmar, said she comes from a family of refugees, migrant workers and survivors of domestic abuse, and said she attended law school so she could be an effective advocate for similar survivors.
“No matter where I’m working in the world, and no matter where I’m attending school, I always find myself advocating on behalf of survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence because I feel that I am helping my family in some way,” she said. “I try to live every day knowing that if my grandmothers weren’t the women they were, that I could have easily been a sex trafficking survivor.”
For her fellowship, Talukder said she knew she wanted to focus on identifying survivors early on in the detention process, as she has witnessed first-hand how difficult life in immigration detention centers can be.
“I’ve actually had a client who committed suicide after he received legal status, because the acute trauma he experienced through sex trafficking had gone untreated for so long, [including] in detention centers,” she said. “As an advocate, I want to make sure that that never happens to my clients ever again.”
While at U.Va., Talukder volunteered with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports immigrants in federal custody in Virginia and Maryland, including through a program focused on unaccompanied immigrant children. Talukder and a fellow volunteer, third-year law student Julianne Jaquith, played a key role in obtaining legal status for a teenager from El Salvador who had been kidnapped and forced to smuggle drugs into the United States.
Talukder took numerous courses dealing with immigration law, including the Immigration Law Clinic, and participated in extracurricular activities such as the Migrant Farmworker Project, in which UVA Law students visit farmworker camps in the Charlottesville region to inform the workers about their legal rights and to observe working and living conditions.
Doug Ford, director of the Immigration Law Clinic, praised Talukder’s skills as an attorney and as an advocate for immigrants.
“Sabrina connects with difficult, traumatized clients so they will unearth memories they have buried,” he said. “At the same time she maintains her legal distance to both evaluate a client’s testimony and rigorously analyze the strength of the case.”
She was also one of eight Cowan Fellows who took part in last year’s Human Rights Study Project, in which U.Va. Law students traveled to Madagascar to investigate the status of human rights in the aftermath of a 2009 coup d’etat.
After her first year of law school, Talukder worked at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in its Torture Survivors Project, in which she went into detention centers and helped provide direct legal representation to torture survivors.
For her second summer job, she worked at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant Rights Project in San Francisco, focusing on legislation and impact litigation that dealt with federal immigration reform.
As part of her fellowship, Talukder will implement a training program for the 725 public defenders at the Legal Aid Society of New York City. The program will teach them how to identify survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence. She will also create multilingual educational materials to help guide survivors through their immigration relief options.
Her other duties will include providing direct legal representation and holistic social services to noncitizen survivors identified through referrals and through outreach at Rikers Island correctional facility.
“The goal of this fellowship is implement the project in two years, and then to replicate the public defender trainings across the country in three to five years,” she said. “I also hope to disseminate the multilingual survivor-centric community education materials across the country as well.”