The Women's Employment Rights Clinic (WERC) of Golden Gate University School of Law was established in 1993 to serve as a training ground for the next generation of ethical, competent and socially responsible professionals and to provide critical legal services and support to the community. The Clinic's mission is centered on ensuring that every worker has the right to economic fairness, equal opportunity and dignity in the workplace. Our mission is to collaborate with grassroots, community-based organizations and worker centers to enhance their capacity for systemic change. Our individual and impact cases are informed and are coordinated in partnership with broader community campaigns for economic justice.
On-Site Clinics: Women's Employment Rights Clinic
Partnering with community based organizations, WERC advocates for the rights of low-wage and immigrant workers through direct service, impact litigation and public policy work and community education. WERC operates an intake hotline staffed by law students, under the supervision of the clinic faculty and attorneys. The clinic advises, counsels and represents clients in a variety of employment-related matters including wage and hour violations, discrimination, workplace harassment, unemployment benefits, pregnancy and family/medical leave laws. Law students work under the direct supervision of Clinic Director Hina Shah. The staff also includes the Clinic Administrative Assistant, Fe Gonzalez.
ELFENWORKS CENTER FOR EMPLOYMENT JUSTICE
With a generous seed grant from the Elfenworks Foundation, Golden Gate University School of Law established the Elfenworks Center for Employment Justice (ECEJ) at the Women's Employment Rights Clinic. ECEJ focuses on legal advocacy and education for domestic workers and caregivers. Through ECEJ, WERC students, staff, and faculty identify and focus work on key issues affecting immigrant working women. In its initial phase, ECEJ is dedicated to improving the rights of household domestic workers and caregivers in residential facilities. ECEJ provides direct representation of workers, technical legal assistance to community-based organizations and legal advocates, and trainings for domestic workers and caregivers.
Associate Professor of Law & Director, Women's Employment Rights Clinic
Clinic Program Assistant
Fe Gonzalez provides administrative support to both WERC and the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. Fe joined the clinics in 2002, bringing many years of experience as a legal secretary and paralegal.
WERC is dedicated to improving the rights of household domestic workers and caregivers in residential care facilities. In conjunction with grassroots, community-based organizations, WERC embraces a multi-pronged approach to making systemic changes. Through education, empowerment, litigation and policy reform, WERC is at the forefront of strengthening and expanding protections for low-wage workers.
Clinic students have successfully represented individual domestic workers and caregivers, recovering minimum wage and overtime, and successfully challenging denial of meal and rest breaks.
Fighting Wage Theft, One Hour at a Time
Each year, WERC students and attorneys represent numerous workers in their individual and collective actions against employers. As a result of WERC's direct representation, clients have recovered $1.3 million of unpaid wages just in the last four years mostly through administrative advocacy. WERC students and attorneys represent clients in administrative hearings before the Labor Commissioner and in court.
Our students gain valuable litigation experience representing caregivers before the California Labor Commissioner in contested evidentiary hearings. These workers work in residential care facilities, also called "assisted living facilities" or "board and care homes," for the elderly or developmentally disabled. They are owed a significant amount of unpaid wages. They work around the clock, on-call for 24 hour shifts, without adequate sleeping facilities or sufficient sleep. Some of these caregivers are forced to sleep on a cot or folding bed in the kitchen or dining room. They are not paid overtime and in some instance, their flat rate falls below the minimum wage. As a result of the students' advocacy, workers have been successful in being awarded their unpaid wages.
Bringing Significant Cases to Improve the Law for Low-Wage Workers
WERC consistently identifies areas where worker rights can be developed through strategic litigation. Both through its own docket and by acting as amici ("friend of the court"), WERC has contributed to expanding workplace protections for the most vulnerable workers.
Caregivers Sue Kindred Healthcare and Affiliates
In partnership with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center and Feinberg Jackson Worthman & Wasow LLP, we filed a class-action against Kindred Healthcare, Inc. and its affiliated companies. This action challenges the illegal practices impacting hundreds of caregivers throughout California who are denied minimum wage and overtime and not provided their required meal and rest breaks. As our experience has shown us, this industry is replete with labor violations. We are hopeful that this lawsuit will significantly increase industry compliance with minimum labor standards. Read more about the case here.
24-Hour Shift Workers and Sleep
For the last five years, WERC has been challenging the unlawful practice of deducting eight hours of sleep for live-in workers and those who work 24 hour shifts through individual cases and administrative advocacy. When the issue of sleep deductions was heading to the California Supreme Court, WERC submitted an amicus brief on behalf of low-wage worker advocates. WERC Director, Hina Shah, wrote the brief and argued before the California Supreme Court in Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc. The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion holding that 24-hour shift workers required to spend time at their worksites and under the employer's control are entitled to compensation for all hours worked, including sleep time. Read the LA Times article. Also read the Sleep Handout for Workers.
Highlights of WERC-ECEJ's Domestic Worker & Caregiver Advocacy:
photo by Cindy Charles
photo courtesy PAWIS
Filipino Caregivers Win Settlement Against Employers
In collaboration with the Filipino Community Center and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in Northern California (NAFCON-NorCal), WERC won a settlement for Victoria Aquino and Lourdes Torres, two caregivers who worked in a group home. They worked alone, on 24 hour shifts, caring for six elderly patients. They received over $70,000 in unpaid wages and penalties. This case marks a major victory for workers' rights in the growing caregiver industry.
WERC-ECEJ students successfully settled wage and hour claims on behalf of four Filipino caregivers who worked at a group facility in Sonoma County. The caregivers came to WERC-ECEJ for representation, after working 16-17 hours a day but being paid for only 8 hours of work.
In collaboration with the Filipino Community Center, WERC-ECEJ won a $90,000 back wage settlement for group home caregiver Nelly Gonzales who worked alone, seven days a week, caring for six elderly patients.
At an East Bay care home, Sonny Villar and Maria Remoreras were earning below the minimum wage, $5 an hour with no overtime. Sonny organized his co-workers after he learned about his rights from Filipino Advocates for Justice and the Peoples Association of Workers and Immigrants (PAWIS), two community-based organizations that support Filipino immigrants. WERC-ECEJ students and faculty represented the workers, and we successfully settled the case as well as reformed the workplace.
"We work hard to care for the elderly and to care for our families. We do it because we love to. And we do it even though it's hard. We deserve to get our basic rights and when we unite to defend our rights, we have the power to win." Caregiver Sonny Villar, said in remarks at PAWIS community celebration of their case victory.
EDUCATION & EMPOWERMENT
WERC has developed an expertise in the complex laws governing domestic workers and caregivers, providing technical assistance to numerous community-based organizations and legal advocates throughout California and community education and worker trainings on the rights of domestic workers and caregivers and other low-wage workers. To schedule a training, please contact the Clinic.
Domestic Workers Secure Permanent Overtime Rights
For more than a decade, domestic workers in California have mobilized a grassroots, worker-led statewide movement for equal treatment under the law. WERC has been a steadfast ally, serving as legal counsel to the California Domestic Workers Coalition since 2010, in its effort to expand workplace protections for this vulnerable and indispensable workforce.
In 2013, the Governor signed AB 241, extending overtime to almost 100,000 domestic workers in California. This gain, however, was not secure, as the bill would sunset in 2017. We celebrate the passage of SB 1015, which removes the sunset provision and makes overtime rights for these domestic workers a permanent reality. The success of this campaign is a testament to the grassroots organizing efforts to build the leadership and visibility of this low-wage immigrant women workforce.
WERC is proud to be a champion of domestic workers. As legal counsel to the Coalition, we provided legal and technical expertise to the Coalition, the Legislature and to the Governor's staff and helped educate worker leaders about the existing complex regulatory structure so they can make informed policy decisions. WERC has also represented domestic workers in enforcing these new rights in court and in administrative advocacy, helping recover hard earned wages and securing better working conditions.
The Clinic accepts new cases from August through November and January through April. We are not a drop-in clinic. Workers seeking assistance must call and speak with a clinic student who will do a preliminary phone interview. We handle a variety of employment related matters including wage and hour violations, discrimination, harassment, pregnancy accommodation, family leave laws and unemployment insurance. Our emphasis is on serving low income clients. There is no income limit. We do not handle worker's compensation claims.
Currently, the Clinic is only accepting cases on a limited basis. If you are a domestic worker or a caregiver in residential facility OR you have an unemployment insurance matter, please call the clinic.
Hotline Staff Hours: Mon - Fri: 9 am - 5 pm
Phone: 415-442-6647 (you can also leave a message after hours)
"My law school commitment has changed from books and lectures to a new hands-on experience with the law, my clients and my colleagues."
-- Betta Fabiani, WERC Clinician '09
What do students do in the Clinic?
Students get exciting, hands-on experience representing low-income workers in various types of employment disputes. Clinic students, under the supervision of Professor Hina B. Shah conduct telephone intakes, assess and investigate cases, interview, advise and counsel clients, research and write substantive legal memoranda and/or legal briefs, represent clients at administrative hearings, file administrative claims and advocate for clients as needed. Students generally assist many individual clients during the semester, and may have the opportunity to work with outside co-counsel in more complex litigation or to participate in legislative or regulatory advocacy. Through the Clinic's Elfenworks Center for Employment Justice, students will work on issues affecting domestic workers and caregivers.
Where do our clients come from?
The Clinic represents clients from diverse backgrounds throughout the Bay Area with a special focus on low-income, immigrant women. Clients are referred to the Clinic by community based organizations, former clients, attorney referral agencies like the San Francisco Bar Association, private attorneys, the courts, employment agencies such as the Employment Development Department, non-profit legal organizations such as the Employment Law Center, social service agencies, unions and other organizations. Clients also learn about the Clinic through media coverage. The Clinic accepts new cases from August through November and January through April. Currently, the clinic is only accepting cases from domestic workers and caregivers and workers who have unemployment insurance issues.
Who can apply for the Clinic?
The Clinic is open to second and third year students who have successfully completed all first-year courses, and have completed Evidence or are concurrently enrolled in Evidence. Prior or concurrent enrollment in Employment Law or Employment Discrimination is helpful for clinic students but it is not required. The clinic is not limited to women students. Special scheduling arrangements are made on a case-by-case basis for night students whenever possible. Students interested in working with low-income clients from diverse backgrounds and students with fluency in Spanish, Tagalog, or Cantonese are encouraged to apply. Students must submit a Clinic Application Form to Professor Hina B. Shah. Deadlines for applications are published each semester in the law school news. Students or prospective students who would like more information about the clinic can contact the clinic faculty.
What number of units and time commitment are involved?
Clinic students enroll in the 2 unit seminar plus an additional 2 or 3 clinic units
- 2 Clinic units = 12.5 clinic hours per week (total of 4 units)
- 3 Clinic units = 15 hours per week (total of 5 units)
What do we cover in the Women's Employment Rights Seminar?
The Seminar combines skills training and substantive law issues affecting low-wage workers. The seminar's substantive law topics include employment discrimination, workplace harassment, wage and hour laws, pregnancy discrimination and family and medical leave issues, unemployment benefits, wrongful termination, labor law, disability discrimination, and issues affecting immigrant workers. We emphasize a practical approach to these subject areas, with extensive discussion of California law as well as federal protections. Skills training includes interviewing, counseling, claims filing procedures, case theory development, and trial skills. Students prepare and conduct a mock administrative hearing.
What is the California State Bar certification program for Practical Training of Law Students (PTLS)?
The Practical Training of Law Students (PTLS) program allows a certified law student to perform permitted activities such as representing clients at hearings under the supervision of a supervising attorney. WERC clinicians are certified by the State Bar. For more information, see: PTLS
Can I enroll in the Seminar without taking the Clinic?
Generally, the seminar is limited to clinic students. In very limited circumstances, we may accept students for the Seminar, without participation in the Clinic, at the Professors' discretion. If you are interested in the Seminar only, contact Professor Hina Shah by the clinic application deadline published each semester in Law School News.
Should I take the Clinic if I do not plan to practice employment and labor law?
Yes. You will learn a wide range of lawyering skills in the Clinic that will be useful to you in other areas of law. These may include client counseling, legal research and writing, case investigation, witness interviews, and various administrative hearing skills such as opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and closing arguments.
Is it possible to enroll in WERC for more than one semester?
Yes. We accept a limited number of students as "carry-over" students if space is available and they want to continue their clinic work by enrolling for an additional semester.
WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS CLINIC
Golden Gate University School of Law
536 Mission Street, Suite 3326
San Francisco, CA 94105-2968
Professor Hina Shah
Associate Professor & Director
Thanks to everyone who attended and supported our 20th Anniversary Clinic Celebration. Join our 20th Anniversary Circle of Donors.
WERC is program of Golden Gate University, a 501(c)(3) charitable educational organization. All contributions are deductible to the maximum extent permitted by law. Individual and foundation donations are gratefully accepted.
Gifts of any size are welcome. Donations to WERC may be made in two ways:
- Print out our donation form and mail in your contribution. Donation Form (PDF).
- Make an online donation here.
Seek a Workplace Matching Gift
Ask your human resources department or corporate giving personnel whether your employer matches donations to nonprofit organizations made by its employees. If it does, request a match for the gift you make to the Women's Employment Rights Clinic.
Designate Cy Pres Funds
If there is an opportunity to do so, consider the Women's Employment Rights Clinic-Golden Gate University School of Law as a recipient of cy pres monies when resolving class actions.
Donate Stock or Appreciated Securities
Please contact Clinic Director Hina Shah directly. Speak with your financial advisor about possible tax benefits that might result from making this type of gift.
Make a Bequest
Include a gift to the Women's Employment Rights Clinic-Golden Gate University School of Law in your estate plan. For more information, contact Clinic Director Hina Shah directly.
CLINIC ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT
Students always wonder if there is life after the Clinic and Golden Gate. Here is a spotlight on one of our own:
GGU Law 2002
WERC Graduate Law Fellow 2003 - 04
Pamela Kong is an attorney at the Oakland law firm of Sundeen Salinas and Pyle. She represents plaintiffs in employment cases. Through her firm, Pam has represented many low wage monolingual workers and continues to do so.
Pam has a BA from the University of California Los Angeles and lives in San Francisco. She was recently named a Super Lawyer and received the 2010 ACBA Distinguished Service Award for a Barrister. She currently serves on the Executive Committee for the Alameda County Barristers and was the District 3 representative for the State Bar's California Young Lawyers Association for the years 2007 through 2009. Pam is a native San Franciscan and fluent in Cantonese and Toison.
About Pam's experience in the Women's Employment Rights Clinic: My Clinic experience as a student cemented the direction my career would take. I gained a deep appreciation for employment practice and haven't looked back. The Clinic brought to life the concepts I learned in the classroom and the law became tangible. For me, it was one of those "ah hah!" moments. I finally understood what the practice of law was about and I truly fell in love with employment law. As a graduate law fellow, I tried my first case with the Clinic in my first year of practice. This experience was invaluable. I received very solid support and mentoring. The Clinic indisputably shaped the litigator that I am today.