At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we heard a lot about America’s frontline workers. Politicians and pundits took to the airwaves and op-ed pages to praise the courage and necessity of these “essential workers,” who were braving the pandemic to keep our country fed and moving forward.
In short order, though, we learned that in many cases these were mere words and, more often, they weren’t backed up by any meaningful actions.
Employers refused to implement commonsense protections and rules to help protect workers from Covid-19, and politicians began pushing bills that would give immunity to those same employers if and when their workforces became sick as a result of their inaction.
For frontline workers like me, it was a sad reminder that we have few true champions in Washington, where workers badly need an advocate looking out for us.
That’s why I am so excited that President Joe Biden has nominated Karla Gilbride to serve as general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Karla is a true champion of America’s essential, frontline workers. And I should know: She was also my lawyer in my successful fight against my employer that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Karla argued and won a unanimous victory for workers like me, bridging the gap between conservative and liberal justices in a rare, sweeping high court victory.
My connection to Karla began after I sued a Taco Bell franchisee where I had worked, alleging that the franchisee, which operates dozens of Taco Bell locations, had intentionally failed to pay my and my coworkers’ overtime pay.
Overtime pay is a very big deal for America’s hourly fast-food employees, who work long hours just to put food on their own families’ tables. Midway through our lawsuit, however, Sundance tried to invoke an arbitration clause in our employment contract and force us out of court—and into an arbitral forum where workers very rarely win and—on the off chance that they do—recover pennies on the dollar compared to what they typically recover in court.
Karla took our case, fighting Sundance’s attempt to change the rules in the middle of our lawsuit, and presented a powerful argument before the nation’s highest court last year. It was, “Slate Magazine” reported, “one of those rare arguments in which you can hear an advocate changing the court’s mind in real time.”
Several months later, the court issued a sweeping, unanimous opinion in our favor, finding that companies are no longer allowed to use such deceitful tactics to try and block the courthouse doors. Karla convinced the justices to set aside partisan ideologies and unite behind what was right for workers.
But my case wasn’t the first, or only, case Karla has taken on for blue-collar, hourly workers across the country. She has represented bus drivers in Maryland fighting religious discrimination and harassment. Agricultural workers in California who were tricked into signing contracts they didn’t understand and weren’t even given a chance to read. And countless other workers fighting the injustices we face, day in and day out, as we just try to do our jobs and provide for our families.
That’s why it is so important that senators—Republican and Democratic alike—unite to confirm Karla for this important job. She will be a true champion for workers, giving us a voice in Washington and an ally in the administration. There is, quite simply, no one better suited, or more qualified, for this job than she is.
As a single mother of four, I hear politicians talk a lot about “family values.” If those same politicians want to truly show that they value my family—and the families supported by hardworking Americans from Maine to Alaska and everywhere in between—they can do so by voting to get Karla on the job at the EEOC.
She will be a leader who stands up for every worker—at long last—back up eloquent words with meaningful actions. Moving her nomination forward is the very least our elected leaders could do.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Robyn Morgan was plaintiff in the US Supreme Court case, Morgan v. Sundance. She currently lives in Seligman, Missouri.
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