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Athena Arana

The Project

Athena (she/ella) will represent immigrant and undocumented workers in Napa and Sonoma counties who have no access to free employment legal services, leveraging new federal and state programs aimed at encouraging undocumented workers to vindicate their rights.

While Napa and Sonoma counties are internationally known for their award-winning wines, lesser known is that undocumented workers, disproportionately represented in wine-related sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, are overworked and exploited to keep this billion-dollar industry running. As the climate crisis exacerbates wildfires, flooding and extreme heat in the region, low-income, largely undocumented farmworkers work in progressively unbearable conditions. Well-founded fears of immigration-related retaliation by powerful wine industry employers dissuades many workers from filing complaints and no other legal services provider in the region can help individual workers in employment matters regardless of immigration status. As a result, this rural, often isolated workforce faces a profound access-to-justice gap that makes it nearly impossible to recover stolen wages, enforce safety protections, and fight discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Athena’s immigrant and low-income background motivates her commitment to provide trauma-informed, culturally competent legal advocacy that derives from and centers the needs of the immigrant community. She hopes to dedicate her career to providing free legal representation to immigrant workers that seek to obtain fair wages and working conditions for themselves, their coworkers, and their community.

Fellowship Plans

Athena will empower immigrant workers to fight against oppressive employment practices through outreach and education in partnership with local immigrant-serving organizations, direct legal representation, and impact litigation focusing on expanding protections for immigrant low-wage workers. Athena will also utilize and expand access to recently formalized immigration policies that provide Deferred Action to witnesses and victims of workplace violations. Athena will increase awareness of this important protection against immigration-related retaliation and advocate with employment enforcement agencies to ensure equitable access to this benefit for low-income immigrant workers.

“This Fellowship represents an important step towards combatting the historical lack of investment of resources in this region’s low-wage and largely undocumented workforce."

Athena Arana /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Isabella’s project will focus on work with Legal Impact for Chickens (LIC) to carry out novel litigation that reforms the poultry industry, improving conditions for poultry workers, contract growers, and animals.

Isabella’s inspiration is her grandmother, a guiding force in her life who has always encouraged her to embrace her Puerto Rican heritage, her desire to do justice, and her belief that she can effect positive change in the world.

Needs Addressed by Project

Ninety-seven percent of the 160 million chickens consumed weekly nationwide are produced through “contract” farming, a financially exploitative process in which an individual farmer takes out large loans in order to raise chickens for a large poultry corporation. Poultry slaughterhouse workers have some of the highest rates of depression, PTSD, and traumatic workplace injuries nationwide; amputations are routine and chronic illness common. Workers are constantly exposed to hazardous biological agents, and basic labor rights like bathroom breaks and overtime pay are often not respected. Most industry workers are people of color, many are women, and nearly one third are immigrants. Animals also suffer: most US chickens live in dark, crowded sheds that serve as breeding grounds for disease, and increased line speeds mean that birds are often accidentally scalded to death while still fully conscious.

Fellowship Plans

Large poultry companies make all the decisions about growers’ work, but reject legal liability, leaving growers indebted and stripped of basic labor rights. Isabella will explore USDA’s role in the economic condition of growers. Isabella will also investigate USDA decisions that impact worker safety; for instance, increased dispensation of line speed waivers and a recurrent lack of inspection in poultry slaughterhouses has increased worker injuries. Isabella will share her findings with allied coalition partners and use it to inform the specific legal strategy for a LIC impact litigation lawsuit.

“As an LGBTQ+ Latinx woman, I’m proud to be contributing to the diversity of the law and assisting those who lack access to traditional legal resources.”

Isabella Nilsson /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

David’s (he/him/his) project with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) will reduce the impacts of the climate crisis on agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley by enforcing workplace health and safety laws regulating heat exposure and other environmental stressors.

Fellowship Plans

Farmworkers in California often lack recourse to justice when their rights are violated on the job, as there are few free and accessible legal service providers, and government enforcement agencies often lack the resources to investigate in rural areas. As a result, hundreds of thousands of workers suffer from lack of water and shade, exposure to wildfire smoke and pesticides, and injuries and illness from overwork in heat, and may be retaliated against when seeking to exercise their rights to ameliorate such environmental conditions. The time is ripe, therefore, to bring climate justice to the workplace, in California and beyond. David will collaborate with CRLA lawyers and community workers, allied organizations, and state agencies over the course of his Fellowship to deliver Know-Your-Rights trainings about existing legal protections; bring administrative complaints and litigation to improve climate-related health and safety conditions throughout the Central Valley; and participate in working groups and rule-making processes around the state and country to scale the lessons learned in the breadbasket of the world’s fifth-largest economy.

I’m honored to be joining such a storied and respected California organization to work on what I’m most passionate about: fighting for the rights of low-wage workers impacted by exploitative working conditions and the worsening climate crisis.

David Cremins /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Elizabeth combats employment discrimination among undocumented and low-wage workers in Los Angeles through direct legal services, community outreach and education, and policy advocacy.

Los Angeles’ low wage industries—including the car wash, garment, restaurant, day labor, and domestic worker industries—are notorious for wage theft, discrimination, and retaliation. Employers are increasingly retaliating against undocumented workers for asserting their employment rights and advocating for better working conditions. In some instances, they may even threaten to report workers to ICE. Fearful of legal repercussions, undocumented workers may be reluctant to report employment violations and to cooperate with workplace investigations. This enables unscrupulous employers to gain unfair competitive advantages over law-abiding employers.

Elizabeth’s prior work with Bet Tzedek Legal Services addressing wage theft and discrimination among low wage workers left a lasting impression on her. Having grown up in an immigrant household and in a largely low income minority neighborhood, advocating on behalf of low wage and immigrant workers felt meaningful.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Elizabeth will build on Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ existing partnerships with community-based organizations and worker centers. She will hold regular discrimination clinics and provide advice, counsel, and direct representation to workers in the areas of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. She will also hold Know-Your-Rights trainings to educate workers about what to do when an employer discriminates against them. Additionally, in collaboration with Bet Tzedek Legal Services and community partners, Elizabeth will develop policy proposals to expand protections and enforcement against discrimination.

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants and granddaughter of a Bracero farmworker, I came to admire the hard work and resiliency of immigrant workers and I learned to fiercely protect what workers rightfully earned through their labor—including respect.

Elizabeth Machado /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.

Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.

Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.

Fellowship Plans

Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.

Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.

Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Joseph’s (he/him/his) project will provide legal representation, community education, and outreach to domestic home healthcare workers in Chicago to enforce their rights under the new Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

Illinois is home to roughly 85,000 domestic workers, roughly 47,000 of whom are home healthcare workers. Most are women, people of color, and immigrants. They play an important role in caring for older adults and people with disabilities in their homes, but they are also three times more likely than other workers to live in poverty. Joseph’s project will educate domestic workers about their employment-related rights and provide direct legal representation to address discrimination, wage theft, retaliation, and harassment.

Joseph has made workers’ rights and economic justice the central motivator of his law school career. He understands the unfair and enormous burden placed on individuals with limited proficiency in English to access justice. He believes that creating a more equitable, worker-centered approach in the workplace will lead to greater economic security for individuals in low-income, immigrant communities.

Fellowship Plans

Joseph will work with community partners in Chicago to strengthen enforcement of the new Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights by identifying violations. His project will develop multi-lingual and literacy-appropriate know-your-rights materials and host community events to disseminate information about the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. He will also pursue enforcement of the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights with city and state agencies to address discrimination, wage theft, retaliation, and harassment.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve low-wage workers, particularly domestic workers in Chicago. I’m proud to fight for a more just workplace free of discrimination, wage theft, harassment, and retaliation.

Joseph Garcia /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Steve assisted low-wage immigrant workers with wage claims by expanding KIWAs Worker Empowerment Clinic.

Fellowship Highlights

Steve assisted workers at Koreatown supermarkets and raised concerns of unlawful and inequitable workplace conditions to the larger Los Angles community. His work resulted in a seven-figure settlement and changes in workplace conditions across various supermarkets in Koreatown.

Next Steps

Following his Fellowship, Steve worked at a prominent private public interest law firm where he continued representing low-wage immigrant workers in wage and hour class actions. Steve also served as a supervising attorney in the housing unit of the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, where Steve supervised a housing rights clinic and engaged in unlawful eviction defense and slum litigation. Since 2012, Steve has served California workers at the California Labor Commissioner’s Office where he continues to represent low-wage immigrant workers with wage and hour claims.

The Project

Dave (he/him) advocates at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) for low wage workers in the Boston area to increase health and safety at work through direct legal services, community education, and policy advocacy.

No one should have to choose between losing income and protecting their health. But low-wage workers are often fired or get their hours cut for asserting their rights to paid sick leave or safe and healthy working conditions. As a result, poor health outcomes and high unemployment are concentrated in the working-class neighborhoods that make our state run.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Dave has:

  • Trained over 425 workers and advocates about sick time and paid medical leave rights
  • Won settlements totaling $119,000 for unpaid sick time and wrongful termination of 27 workers
  • Won $50,000 in unemployment benefits for seven wrongly terminated workers
  • Obtained $260,000 in Paid Family Medical Leave benefits for 34 workers with serious health conditions
  • Expanded eligibility for Paid Family Medical Leave benefits to thousands of undocumented workers through individual appeals, legal research, and advocacy with the state agency
  • Submitted proposed regulatory changes to the Department of Family and Medical Leave to improve appeal rights for late applicants and wrongfully denied applicants

Next Steps

In the next year, Dave plans to:

  • Start a new community partnership for GBLS Employment Law Unit to reach more immigrant workers
  • Develop model demand letters for community partners to use for paid sick leave and hold workshops
  • Continue systemic advocacy on worker health in new state legislative cycle, to expand paid sick leave, paid medical leave, and improve accessibility of these benefits


Massachusetts Businesses Not Following COVID-19 Sick Time Program, Workers and Advocates Say

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

The pandemic demonstrates that all of our lives are connected, and those who put profit over people imperil everyone.

Dave McKenna /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Meghan (she/her) represents workers in wage theft cases and advocates for improved labor standards enforcement in North Carolina, targeting industries that exploit immigrant workers and workers of color.

Low-wage workers in Charlotte—the largest city in North Carolina—have inadequate access to employment legal services. The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is the largest provider of civil legal services in the Charlotte area, and Meghan’s project is aimed at addressing the underlying reasons for many clients’ financial instability. She is working closely with community organizations to identity common forms of wage theft and help low-wage workers recover stolen wages.

Meghan is eager to help workers in her home state push for better working conditions and greater employer accountability for labor abuses.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Meghan has:

  • Recovered wages owed to workers in the healthcare and childcare industries
  • Participated in statewide efforts to improve language access for individuals seeking unemployment insurance benefits
  • Represented workers in workplace retaliation complaints filed with state agencies
  • Provided advice and/or brief service to approximately 45 individuals on employment-related issues
  • Collaborated with community partners to better understand industry-specific forms of wage theft
  • Delivered presentations on wage theft to community partners to develop a client referral system
  • Engaged with a local economic security coalition, as well as regional and statewide coalitions, to expand project reach and impact

Next Steps

In the next year, Meghan plans to:

  • Work with community partners to address worker misclassification in the construction industry
  • Advise low-wage workers about state retaliation protections and help file complaints with the state Department of Labor
  • Continue raising awareness about common forms of wage theft in local policy discussions

It is critical to address the role that Southern states have played in exploiting immigrant workers and workers of color.

Meghan Lucas /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Fernanda (she/her/hers) will combat immigration-related retaliation against workers in climate disaster clean up and reconstruction zones in the Southern United States through education, legal representation, and policy change.

The global climate crisis is wreaking havoc across the United States. Whether it be hurricanes, dam breaks, tornados, or wildfires, companies are looking to rebuild quickly at expedient costs and to do so, secure workers from around the country. Most of these workers are immigrants and many are undocumented. Unfortunately, many in the growing disaster recovery industry take advantage of the workers’ undocumented status by not paying them all they are owed, not paying them at all, and not following safety and health guidelines for what is often very dangerous work. When workers assert their rights, employers threaten to report them to immigration enforcement authorities.

Fernanda and her family left Mexico and moved to Alabama when she was two years old, where she grew up as an undocumented immigrant. She watched her parents receive less pay and unfair treatment than they deserved for their long hours of labor and take whatever job was available to them out of necessity to provide for their family. Due to a lack of information, her family was left vulnerable to those who believed undocumented immigrants had no legal recourses in labor disputes. Fernanda hopes to empower others and spread through the immigrant community the knowledge that everyone deserves a fair wage and humane working conditions, despite their immigration status.

Fellowship Plans 

Fernanda will equip natural disaster workers with legal information about their rights to be free from immigration-related retaliation by creating Know Your Rights workshops and videos to distribute via social media platforms, and training workers to be peer educators. She will also represent workers in wage and hour, safety and health, and worker organizing retaliation claims; companion applications for U Visas; and in appropriate cases, T Visas. Fernanda will hold large companies accountable for immigration-related retaliation, even when it is committed by subcontractors. She will also help change local policy, in disaster-affected communities to reduce the effects of immigration-related retaliation and promote long-lasting changes at the national level.


2021 Scales of Justice Highlights

Men and women who rebuild communities decimated by natural disasters often return to their families with empty pockets, crushed spirits, and life-altering illnesses or disabilities as a result of their dedication to reconstruction and the lack of protection given by their employers. Large companies and subcontractors should honor and defend these valiant resilience workers, not pocket the funds federal agencies give them to pay workers.

Fernanda Herrera Spieler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow