Protecting the worker

Featured Stories

by Ellen Ryan

Photo by Jimell Greene

SUMMARY: Laura Brown (’93) has built a career helping low-wage earners stand up for their rights in the workplace while providing legal services and advocacy to prevent job loss and maintain workers’ and their families’ health.

A Washington, D.C., restaurant kitchen worker asked for time off for prenatal medical appointments, then called out because of morning sickness. Her boss illegally fired her for these absences. The Latina mother turned to First Shift Justice Project, which helped her negotiate a settlement with the employer for back pay and damages.

“People don’t know how to stand up for themselves and pursue their rights, and employers are violating the law with impunity,” said Laura Brown (’93), a Political Science and Public Administration major who co-founded the nonprofit nine years ago. Her mission, as always, is to give others a hand up in the workplace.

Inspiration came in part from her involvement with JMU Catholic Campus Ministry, classes with Modern Catholicism professor William O’Meara and Bob Holton (’73, ’89M), former assistant town manager of nearby Bridgewater, Virginia. Holton believes in the approach of unglamorous public service. “That’s the kind of thing that really affects people and has meaning,” Brown said.

First Shift Justice Project has advised nearly 4,500 low-wage workers, focusing on caregivers and working mothers, in its quest to provide legal services and advocacy to prevent job loss and maintain workers’ and their families’ health.

Brown’s first job after Madison was with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching school in East Los Angeles. Several nonprofit stints led to a degree from Santa Clara University School of Law, after which she learned Spanish in Bolivia, worked with labor unions in D.C., joined the D.C. Employment Justice Center and ultimately co-founded First Shift.

A year ago, “in recognition of outstanding dedication to civil rights, equality and justice,” Brown accepted the Employment Lawyer of the Year award from the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association.

Supporters mention Brown’s leadership in the passage of the D.C. Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the joy she took at First Shift’s “Dance Like a Mother” fundraiser and how her Spanish comes in handy with Latin American immigrants. Brown simply explained, “We’re here to help people who fall through the net.”


Back to Top

Published: Friday, April 28, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Related Articles