Molly (she/her/hers) will increase housing stability for low-income renters of Southeast Louisiana by targeting rent debt, a significant barrier to obtaining safe housing.
The pandemic caused millions of tenants to fall behind on rent through no fault of their own. Following the expiration of eviction protections, many tenants are now faced with wage and bank account garnishments, diminished credit ratings, and losing access to safe and stable housing. The situation is particularly acute in Southeast Louisiana, where Hurricane Ida badly damaged an already insufficient supply of affordable housing.
Molly will represent tenants who have been sued for alleged rent debt or have had debt referred to collection agencies. She plans to bring claims under federal consumer protection statutes against landlords and debt buyers engaging in abusive practices. Molly will also help renters understand their rights to dispute inaccurate credit reporting and supplement tenancy applications under a new Louisiana state law (HB 374). Finally, she will work in a coalition with housing advocacy groups for state and local policy solutions to the rent debt crisis in Louisiana.
Protecting tenants is essential to a just and equitable recovery from the pandemic. We must ensure that the most vulnerable tenants before the pandemic do not experience the most severe consequences in the years to come.
Molly Gordon /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Madeline employs a multi-dimensional legal and policy strategy to support low-income families experiencing the lead contamination water crisis in St. Louis Public Schools.
Low-income children are exposed to lead while attending schools in certain parts of St. Louis. Based on public records, elevated lead levels were detected in drinking fountains at schools in the St. Louis region as recently as September 2020. Madeline will address this public health crisis by advocating on behalf of these families and advocating for policy reform at the local level or a legislative campaign.
Madeline believes that communities should not be exposed to contaminates or pollution at higher rates because of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic status. She was inspired to do this work because of her grandmother’s community in North St. Louis, which faces many environmental injustices. Madeline is excited to be starting her legal career representing her grandmother’s community and others by advocating for clean water in St. Louis Public Schools.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Madeline has:
- Submitted several records requests to the City of St. Louis and St. Louis Public Schools to analyze and publish water testing results from 2016, 2019, and 2020 and has analyzed over 300 water sampling results.
- Conducted hours of legal research, collaborated with advocates from around the country, and met with elected officials, which all culminated with her crafting a policy recommendation for St. Louis area schools.
- Raised awareness of the lead contamination issues in St. Louis schools by presenting and meeting with over two dozen community groups
- Filed comments on behalf of a community organization to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Revision and communicated the groups’ interest in a public listening session hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the next year, Madeline plans to:
- Start a pilot program in a few St. Louis Public Schools to adopt a “filter first” policy approach, which entails installing filtered hydration stations or advocating for other remediation methods
- Engage with elected officials at the Missouri legislature to lay the groundwork of a legislative campaign that requires testing in all schools and some form of remediation
Environmental statutes and public health regulations should benefit everyone, not just the wealthy. Your ZIP code or the color of your skin should not dictate your quality of life in regard to exposure to toxins and pollution.
Madeline Middlebrooks /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jen advocated for the health care rights of low-income persons with disabilities using impact litigation and policy advocacy to ensure continued access to Medicaid benefits and to protect their individual rights under federal Medicaid and disability rights laws.
In 2017, a number of states began seeking to implement work requirement rules in Medicaid, a policy that takes health coverage away from beneficiaries who cannot meet and/or report a minimum number of work hours every month. The rules effectively bar receipt of Medicaid benefits, result in coverage losses, and disproportionately impede access to critical health care services for persons with disabilities. Jen’s work first focused on protecting Medicaid access for this population, particularly for persons with hidden disabilities, because they are routinely unidentified and denied reasonable accommodations by social services agencies during the complicated public benefits application and renewal procedures.
During the two-year Fellowship period, Jen:
- Worked with NCLEJ and 18 partner organizations to ensure persons with disabilities maintain access to critical health care benefits
- Assisted in the development and litigation of three filed cases and two nascent suits, all of which aim to ensure persons with disabilities are afforded a meaningful opportunity to apply for and continue to receive public benefits, including Medicaid
- Secured victories for Medicaid beneficiaries in New Hampshire and Florida who would have lost health coverage resulting from the state implementing work rules or failing to conduct eligibility redeterminations
- Developed an ongoing lawsuit that alleges disability-based discrimination by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services for failing to provide reasonable accommodations to benefits applicants and recipients with disabilities, as required by federal disability rights laws
Jen is now a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she works to advance reproductive rights and protect access to safe and affordable contraceptive health services, including abortion.