Jaribu Hill didn’t opt for law school until her early 40s. She’d been a singer, actress, teacher and labor organizer before learning a college classmate had become head of a group for black female judges. “I can do that, too,” she thought.
Hill has since become a leading civil rights and workers’ rights lawyer in Mississippi and now, at 70, she’s part of a nationwide network of attorneys helping women without much money pursue often-costly sexual misconduct cases.
“We’re looking for opportunities to lift up women who’ve never been lifted up,” Hill said.
She is among 721 attorneys inspired by the #MeToo movement who have signed up with the Times Up Legal Defense Fund since it launched last year. While the movement burst into the spotlight in October 2017 with celebrities and others accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct, the fund is reaching everyday working women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to take their complaints to court.
The Times Up fund, administered by the National Women’s Law Center, has received more than 3,670 requests for assistance and has funded 160 cases thanks to $24 million in donations.
The lawyers in its network hail from big law firms and small practices in 45 states.
Childhood memories of inequality stuck with Kathryn Youker as she started representing victims of racial and gender discrimination.
As a white child in the majority Hispanic city of Harlingen, Texas, “I saw inequality in a very stark and racist way,” she said. “I always questioned why I had opportunities available to me that my classmates and friends didn’t have.”
Now based in Brownsville — a twin city of Harlingen on the Mexican border — Youker, 44, coordinates labor and employment cases for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which provides free services to thousands of low-income residents and migrant workers.
Many of her cases have involved workplace sexual harassment. One of her clients, Carmen Garza, won about a year’s pay in a March settlement after suing her employers for failing to protect her from sexual harassment while working as home care aide.
“We’re talking about how it’s happening here — in restaurants, in private homes,” she said. “It’s a very intimate discussion.”
Philadelphia attorney Robert Vance, who has specialized in employment discrimination cases for four decades, says the fund is allowing him to help harassment victims who never could have paid legal bills on their own.
Vance represented Malin DeVoue, an African American woman who was fired as head cook at a Philadelphia hotel after complaining to managers that the hotel’s chief engineer was sexually harassing her.
The case was settled in June. The amount DeVoue received hasn’t been made public, but Vance said she is happy with the money and relieved to avoid a trial.
“Sexual harassment cases are difficult to do, because clients often have been fired and have no financial resources,” Vance said. “The fund is wonderful because you can devote as much time as the case requires.”
As an African American man, Vance finds it rewarding to represent minority women and help them gain confidence that their allegations will be believed.
“I’m motivated to represent them as zealously and successfully as I can because I know what my family’s female members go through,” he said.