Anna,* a single mother, was denied overtime payments after years of working 48-hour weeks with only one day off to spend with her teenage daughter. She feared if she challenged her employer she would be fired. Anna was trying to save as much money as she could to pay for her daughter’s college tuition, so losing her job was not an option.
Unable to afford an attorney, Anna was unaware of how strong her claim was. She didn’t know what documentation she would need or what the best strategy would be for her case. Moreover, Anna had signed an arbitration agreement during her hiring process, solidifying her belief that she had little chance of gaining the overtime pay she was entitled to. Feeling discouraged and defeated, Anna confided in a friend who encouraged her to attend a Workers’ Rights Clinic, the product of a partnership between the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center (LAS-ELS) and the University of California, Irvine School of Law.
Twice a month, these free clinics are hosted at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s (LASOC) headquarters in Santa Ana where trained law students and staff connect workers to community resources, assist with paperwork, and sometimes provide direct representation. “This is a great partnership. We have the employment law litigation expertise, and then LASOC helps pair clients with attorneys,” explains Senior Staff Attorney, Mike Gaitley. “I am so inspired by how LASOC recognized the need for the area and launched the program without hesitation.”
Though hesitant at first, Anna attended one of the meetings and was paired with LASOC attorney, Angela. With Legal Aid’s help, Anna was able to confidently challenge her employer and was subsequently granted the wages owed to her: $7,500.
“Employees might know their employers are doing something that violates the labor laws, but they are scared to raise their voices because of the lack of legal advocacy resources,” explains Angela. “I’m happy to have been able to help our client understand that her complaint was reasonable and that she should fight for her entitled wages.”
LASOC’s goal is to partner with programs such as LAS-ELC to pool resources, tools, and expertise to empower and assist low-income workers, like Anna, who otherwise would be voiceless.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.