Symone Wango

The Project

Through the Worker Protection Program at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Symone (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in low-income jobs, through direct representation and worker rights education in employment discrimination claims, wage theft claims, and worker safety issues.

The Capital Region of New York, (Albany, Schenectady, and Rensselaer Counties), has a disproportionate population of low-income workers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Roughly 25% of service jobs in the capital region are held by BIPOC, yet this group makes up only 14% of the workforce.  The Black population makes up only 6% of the workforce and has a 13% unemployment rate. Adding to this disparity, Black, low-income, workers have significant barriers to employment as they represent 83% of individuals seeking reentry services and 61% of individuals seeking employment-related legal services at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. The Worker Protection Program fills a vital need in the community as the only free legal service provider of direct representation, and education for low-income workers of color experiencing employment discrimination, wage theft, and workplace safety issues.

Fellowship Plans

 During her Fellowship, Symone will provide direct representation to low-income workers of color for employment discrimination claims, wage theft claims, and workplace safety issues. Symone will launch a “know your rights in the workplace” campaign by engaging low-income workers in the area and coordinating with local community-based organizations and service providers that serve low-income workers.

Growing up in a working-class family taught me that your wages do not determine whether you get to work with a sense of pride and dignity.

Symone Wango /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Juliet will provide direct legal representation, community outreach, and policy advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities to close high school graduation gaps, improve access to work-based learning opportunities, and increase college and career readiness.

Only 43% of New York City’s over 200,000 students with disabilities graduate high school in 4 years, compared with 77% of their peers. New York State’s gap between graduation for students with disabilities and their peers is the 6th widest in the country. State and federal laws require schools to create plans and provide programming that ensure students with disabilities are college and career ready, but school districts do not effectively enforce these laws. A new state graduation regulation provides a means towards addressing these barriers, by allowing students to participate in work-based learning programs (such as vocational training and internships) to fulfill part of their diploma requirements. Such programs are shown to increase not only high school graduation rates, but also college enrollment and graduation rates. However, most work-based learning programs in NYC are not structured to support students with special education needs. Legal advocacy is therefore necessary to both protect the rights of students with disabilities and expand access to work-based learning opportunities, in order to increase high school graduation rates and ensure college and career readiness.

Juliet has seen firsthand how important the disability community has been for her sister who has special needs. She wants to work to eliminate these disparities and create a public education system where the college and career readiness preparation her sister received are the rule rather than the exception.

Fellowship Plans

Juliet will provide advice and case representation for students with disabilities facing issues graduating from and transitioning out of high school, including at impartial hearings and IEP meetings. She will also develop know-your-rights training materials for high school students with disabilities. Juliet plans to participate in coalitions addressing diploma requirements, pathways to graduation, and work-based learning for students with disabilities and research new legal remedies, including vocational skills assessment and vocational training programs.