Dave McKenna

The Project

Dave (he/him/his) will advocate for safe and healthy workplaces for low-wage workers in Greater Boston through direct legal services, community education and outreach, 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. They are pressured to skip doctors’ appointments for themselves and their children to avoid missing work. Some employers even contest eligibility for unemployment benefits where workers have refused to work in unsafe conditions. As a result, poor health outcomes and high unemployment are concentrated in the working-class neighborhoods that make our state run. 

Fellowship Plans

To support workers in accessing their rights, Dave will partner with community organizations to run a know-your-rights campaign for paid sick leave and safe working conditions. Dave will represent workers in retaliation, unemployment, and wage theft claims related to unsafe working conditions and paid sick leave. Finally, Dave will collaborate with worker centers on legislative advocacy to expand the right to paid sick leave to more workers and to expand enforcement by the state. 

Media

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

Tara aims to make accessible and affordable childcare for low-income people in Massachusetts a reality through direct representation, community outreach, and systemic advocacy.

Cost makes childcare inaccessible to most low-income people in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, newly developed regulations of childcare subsidies and vouchers make affordable childcare largely inaccessible. This also makes the benefits of affordable childcare, including mitigating the impact of toxic stress and increasing access to work, education, and healthcare, inaccessible. Tara will work to reform existing and newly implemented state agency policies and practices to recognize the rights of low-income Massachusetts residents and to secure increased access to affordable childcare.

Access to childcare can help disrupt intergenerational poverty by increasing opportunity and improving the health and well-being of parents, guardians and children. Tara believes that policies and programs should be guided by the lived experience of low-income persons, and she aims to ensure that their voices are elevated in the development of childcare regulations.

Fellowship Plans

Tara will provide representation to individuals who have been unfairly denied or terminated from childcare subsidies and vouchers. Tara will work with community and grassroots organizations to identify individuals who need representation and to ensure that low-income Massachusetts residents are aware of their rights in the applications process and once they have attained childcare assistance. After having engaged in community outreach and individual representation, Tara will work to make necessary changes to the law to combat structural barriers to accessing affordable childcare.

Childcare is a vital tool to mitigate the causes and consequences of poverty. The provision of this resource should not just be a formalistic benefit but an actual, accessible resource.

Tara Wilson /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rajan worked to improve health and education outcomes of low-income children with sickle cell disease (SCD) by leading an innovative effort to understand and meet their interrelated medical, social, and legal needs.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

More than a quarter of low-income children have a chronic illness. For children with sickle cell disease (SCD), which primarily affects African-Americans, historical and structural racism negatively affects health. SCD receives nine times less funding per person for research and social support than comparable diseases affecting white Americans. Best medical practices for SCD have been disseminated and followed at much lower rates than best practices for other diseases. Children with SCD face challenges to their health in multiple contexts. Detrimental social factors such as education, housing, and income security can adversely affect health even more than access to health care. Studies have shown, for example, that students with SCD are routinely denied basic accommodations to stay healthy and that the severity of their condition is not believed by schools. Integrated medical, social, and legal services foster better health outcomes for children with SCD.

Fellowship Highlights

During his Fellowship, Rajan has:

  • Partnered with pediatric hematologists and social workers at two Boston hospitals to develop and implement a comprehensive social-legal screening and referral system
  • Conducted a formal Institutional Review Board-approved study at both hospitals to examine the effectiveness of the screening/referral system and to detect relationships between social-legal needs, health outcomes, and health care costs
  • Represented 55 clients who have children with SCD
  • Provided brief services and advice to 175 clients
  • Persuaded the Breathe Easy at Home program, a collaboration of Boston city agencies, to add SCD to the list of disorders to which they give priority status during housing inspections
  • Coordinated the effort among local and national physician groups to comment on regulations proposed by the Social Security Administration that would harm patients with SCD
  • Produced educational materials customized for various audiences—families, physicians, teachers, and government agencies—to explain accommodation requirements for children with SCD in K-12 schools, colleges, public housing, and other contexts
  • Raised awareness of SCD issues through community education
  • Helped form a parent-led SCD advocacy group within the Greater Boston Sickle Cell Disease Association

Many argue against universal access to healthcare, but few if any argue against universal access to justice—yet, there is only one lawyer for every 6,415 low-income individuals in the United States.

Rajan Anthony Sonik

The Project

Paul established a medical-legal partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital–Chelsea Healthcare Center to provide effective educational advocacy to children who were at risk for school exclusion or who faced barriers to equitable educational access.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Despite substantial strides in recent years, schoolchildren in Chelsea and neighboring communities continue to face a variety of challenges that threaten their long-term educational outcomes. Approximately 90% of students in Chelsea come from low-income families and are classified as “high needs” by the state, nearly half of Chelsea residents are foreign-born, and four out of five students speak a first language other than English. Each of these figures represents the highest rate in Massachusetts, contributing in part to the second-highest dropout rate in the state, the lowest graduation rate for students with disabilities, and an out-of-school suspension rate approximately twice the state average. No legal aid organization focuses specifically on educational advocacy in Chelsea, presenting a significant gap in legal services that this project seeks to fill.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Paul has:

  • Provided full legal representation to over seventy low-income clients in a variety of legal
    disputes with schools. He helped one client with significant disabilities secure school district funding of a private transition program after graduation, resulting in the client securing his first competitive employment and gaining the confidence to live independently.
  • Worked onsite at MGH-Chelsea two days a week throughout his Fellowship, providing easily accessible legal information, consultations, and referrals to over 300 patients and families.
  • Filed administrative complaints resulting in significant improvements to school district
    policies relating to bullying intervention and prevention.
  • Leveraged the expertise of experts in developmental pediatrics to negotiate improved services and a 150% increase in early education instructional time for all of a school district’s children diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
  • Conducted training workshops for parents and providers regarding self-advocacy strategies in special education, school discipline, bullying, and other education law topics.

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Paul plans to:

  • Join the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as an attorney in the Boston regional office.
  • Continue working to ensure equal access to education through the enforcement of federal civil rights laws in educational institutions throughout New England.

The Project

Eleanor provided legal representation, outreach, and policy advocacy to low-income elders with mental health diagnoses and cognitive limitations who suffer from abuse, exploitation, neglect, and self-neglect.

By 2030, people over 60 will make up 20 percent of the United States population. An estimated two million of these individuals will have severe mental illnesses. Elders with mental illnesses and other cognitive limitations are at greater risk for elder abuse and self-neglect, which can result in legal problems such as eviction, loss of benefits, and loss of adequate health and social services. This population is less likely than most older adults to have family and friends to assist them with daily activities and accessing services. Self-neglect and abuse are often not discovered until the resulting problems are severe. Through direct representation, community outreach, and education, this project will target elders with mental illness in Greater Boston who have been unable to access legal services.

Eleanor is the right person for the project because prior to law school, she worked as Assistant Manager in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities and as a volunteer in nursing homes. She also pursued a dual degree in social work and law with the goal of working with the elder and disabled populations.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Eleanor:

  • Connect and build relationships with area agencies that serve the elder population
  • Provide trainings to professionals on issue spotting, legal remedies, and referrals for clients
  • Engage in outreach to the community on legal remedies for issues commonly faced by elders with mental illness
  • Begin representation of clients

The Project

Jessica provided advocacy and representation to ensure that people with disabilities had access to integrated and respectful health care in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Despite both federal and state laws mandating equal access to health care, people with disabilities (PWD) frequently face significant barriers to receiving adequate medical care. Some barriers are physical barriers, including a lack of adaptive medical equipment, such as examination tables and chairs, weight scales, radiological equipment, and mammography equipment. Other equally significant barriers include attitudes of healthcare workers who possess negative stereotypes about disability or simply have not received training to ensure that PWD have access to appropriate and culturally competent care. These barriers often result in drastically inferior medical care for PWD.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two year, Jessica has:

  • Represented 10 PWD and provided advice, counsel, and referrals to an additional 30 PWD to ensure access to medical care
  • Gathered over 100 stories of PWD and affidavits as part of a system effort to improve MassHealth’s non-emergency medical transportation system
  • Participated in 3 impact litigation cases to ensure that PWD have access to appropriate medical care, accessible medical equipment, and non-emergency medical transportation
  • Presented 15 workshops at the Boston Center for Independent Living

What’s Next

Now that her Fellowship is complete, Jessica plans to continue working on this vital project at Boston Center for Independent Living.