San Francisco, 02.24.17 – Six civil rights heroes are today being inducted into the Class Action Hall of Fame, lead plaintiffs whose commitment and determination has led to significant advances in economic, environmental, racial and social justice.
Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn Larkin said: “Since 1966, many ordinary people have put their lives and livelihoods on hold to champion the interests of communities: children, women, people with disabilities, African Americans, LGBT people and all those who have traditionally been denied a voice and marginalized as ‘other’ by the privileged and the powerful. It’s time they were recognized for their bravery and endurance in the face of overwhelming odds. They are the unsung heroes of our movement.”
The 2017 inductees are:
Jessy Cruz, who stood up to make California’s schools better for everyone’s little brother
Mike Dragovich, who fought for medical coverage for same-sex spouses
Veronica Lewandowski, who fought for equal access to sports for girls
Sylvester McClain, who fought racial discrimination in employment
Julie Reiskin, who fought for access for people with disabilities
Sara Wellens, who fought gender discrimination in the pharmaceutical industry
“Taking on powerful corporations and government entities is a daunting prospect. The lead plaintiffs have to endure just about every legal strategy that the wallet of big business and government can pay for, plus in many cases, years of uncertainty, court appearances and stress. That takes both guts and spirit--qualities are inductees have in abundance,” said Michael Caesar, Chair of the Impact Fund’s Grant Advisory Committee, which selected the inductees.
The Hall of Fame was conceived early in 2016 as a way to acknowledge the exceptional courage and sacrifice of lead plaintiffs in civil rights class actions. The Impact Fund, which serves as a national clearing house and support center for civil rights class action litigation, took the lead in bringing the face of class action litigation to the fore.
“We all remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill and cases like Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education but we have little knowledge about the real people behind the public interest class action lawsuits that have changed American history. We are committed to bringing these stories, these heroes into the public consciousness so that those who would take away access to justice for the people know that these cases matter,” concluded Larkin.
About the Class of 2017 Inductees:
Jess Cruz | Case: Cruz v. California
The case concerned students in high-need schools who were being prevented from getting credits to graduate. Jessy is an incredibly intelligent, reflective young man. He and his younger brother were placed in the foster system when Jessy was a freshman in high school. He had several placements, which disrupted and negatively impacted his education. In his senior year, he was given several service classes and sent home early even though he had failed over 15 classes. He didn’t graduate high school; he was missing far too many credits. Despite all this, Jessy's commitment has been to providing a better educational environment for his younger brother. He spent countless hours discussing his story, organizing students and teachers, and speaking with reporters and district officials. At such a young age, he stood up "to make schools better for everyone's little brother."
Mike Dragovich | Case: Dragovich v. U.S. Treasury
Mike Dragovich, a nurse at the UCSF liver transplant unit, together with his husband Mike Gaitley were struck by the injustice of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and its impact on their family. They have been a committed couple for more than 30 years (they met in Honolulu in 1979 while training as Pan Am flight attendants) and were married in February 2004 and again on June 29, 2008. As a nurse caring for persons with liver failure, Mike D. was well aware of the costs of health care and related services. In 1997, he applied for and received coverage through CalPERS’ Long-Term Care plan. He knew that the Plan did not offer coverage to the spouses of gay and lesbian CalPERS members. He was aware that should Mike G. experience a debilitating illness or injury, they would shoulder the financial and emotional burden of his care. The couple endured years of litigation and helped bring down DOMA.
Veronica Ollier Lewandowski | Case: Ollier v. Sweetwater HSD
This case was brought under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act and concerned equal access to sports for girls. Veronica Ollier has been brave and dedicated in her role as lead plaintiff for the class. Her involvement began when Veronica attended Castle Park High as a student-athlete and continued after graduation, including today as the high school is being monitored until 2024 to ensure compliance with the court’s Title IX-oriented relief. Throughout the litigation, Veronica participated in regular case conferences, provided critical testimony in deposition and at trial, and represented current and prospective female student-athletes to vindicate their Title IX rights. To participate in a class action as a young person, Veronica drew on her exceptional qualities of maturity, commitment, and fearlessness in standing up to a major community institution while enduring harassment for asserting her rights. She has always remained focused on her objective to help current and future female students in high school experience true and lasting equity in sports.
Sylvester McClain | Case: McClain v. Lufkin Industries
This case concerned racial discrimination: disparate impact on African Americans in employment. Following the Vietnam War, where he served as a Combat Hospital Corpsman in our (then) recently integrated U.S. Army, Sylvester returned to East Texas with a different perspective and got a job at Lufkin. He found the same discrimination he thought he left behind, only now without signs. He became active in his union. He helped start an NAACP chapter. Sylvester convinced the company president he was passed him over for promotions when he was the most qualified. When that president retired, Sylvester was quickly demoted and told he’d never get another salaried promotion. Sylvester was adamant that he pursue his claim as a class action, "to help everybody," even if it limited his recovery. He recruited and worked with, 12 more class representatives so they couldn’t be picked off. He’s now retired, still working with community organizations to help others.
Julie Reiskin | Multiple Cases: Taylor v. Regional Transportation District, CREEC v. RLJ Lodging Trust, Reiskin v. Regional Transportation District, Lucas v. Kmart, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition v. PepsiCo, Inc.
Julie is the Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and is well known nationally for her advocacy work.
These cases all involve disability discrimination under the ADA and/or Rehab Act and have resulted in private and public transportation services, stores and a stadium being made accessible to people with disabilities. These are precisely the types of actions that permit persons with disabilities to fully participate in an integrated society.
No damages are available under Title III of the ADA, and so representative plaintiffs are required to take on all of the responsibilities and time commitments of a representative plaintiff – preparing for and being deposed, reviewing pleadings, participating in important hearings, etc. – without ever receiving a penny. She does all of this in the context of a life of sacrifice in support of persons with disabilities. She has served as the Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition for many years.
Sara Wellens | Case: Wellens v. Daichi
This case concerned gender discrimination in employment. Ms. Wellens devoted 3 years of her life to reforming the notoriously biased pharmaceutical industry through her participation in this case. After years spent enduring the pains of both overt and implicit discrimination from male coworkers, Ms. Wellens took it upon herself to reform the industry for future generations by pursuing a class action. By balancing the strenuous schedules of both serving as a lead plaintiff in a major class action and continuing to work at the very company she sought to reform, Ms. Wellens sacrificed time with her husband and kids for the betterment of the industry at large. And while the publicity around the case created the possibility for challenges down the road—because of the reputation the matter may have created for her in the pharmaceutical industry—Ms. Wellens turned this challenge into an opportunity for growth as she continues to serve as a mentor and resource to women throughout the industry as a result of her participation.
More Information About The Impact Fund Class Action Hall of Fame and How to Nominate Someone
The Impact Fund created the Class Action Hall of Fame in 2016 to honor the courage and sacrifice of lead plaintiffs whose commitment and determination has led to significant advances in economic, environmental, racial and social justice. The first inductees were the class of 2017, announced on February 24, 2017.
There are two:
- Lead Plaintiff of the Year (can be a team) - cases must be closed/settled within the last three years.
- Lead Plaintiff Legacy (can be a team) - cases closed/settled more than three years ago.
3. ELIGIBILITY Criteria
- Must be a Lead Plaintiff in a class action
- The issue and impact of the case must fall under one or more of these categories:Class Actions advancing economic, environmental, racial or social justice.
- The legal issue and the impact categorized above, must be described in further detail.
- Nominations may be from anyone, including self-nomination.
- The heroism and sacrifice of the nominee must be described.
- The nominator should consider the effect (if any) of selection on any future litigation in which the nominee may be involved.
A screening committee consisting of the Impact Fund Executive Director and other Impact Fund staff create a shortlist of 3-4 nominees in each category.
The winners are selected annually by vote of the Impact Fund Grant Advisory Committee at its December meeting.
5. Timeline (September through February of the following year)
- Open nominations: September
- Close nominations: October 31
- Finalists selected: November
- Inductees selected: December
- Winners announced, honored and inducted into the Impact Fund Class Action Hall of Fame in February at the annual Impact Fund Class Action Conference.
6. Initial Slate of Inductees (2017 only)
The Grant Advisory Committee of the Impact Fund will (in addition to the two winners selected in accordance with the procedure above) induct an initial slate of honorees in January 2017. That slate will be proposed by the Impact Fund Grant Policy Committee and voted upon at the December meeting of the Grant Advisory Committee.