Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic
The Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic is pleased to present this Annual Report to share the Clinic’s philosophy and educational goals and to highlight the Clinic’s wide range of local, national and global contributions during the past academic year.
During the Clinic’s twelfth year, students once again dedicated thousands of hours of top-level work on behalf of clients and project partners on a wide variety of sexuality and gender legal issues. As the Clinic has now done for over a decade, students worked on legislative analysis, developed policy advocacy strategies, assisted with high-level amicus briefs, represented an individual asylum seeker, and much more. Through these experiences, Clinic students sharpen their skills as advocates, making the most of all available resources to challenge discrimination and violence targeted at women and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals and people with HIV/AIDS.
With more than a decade of experience, the Clinic’s reputation for excellence continues both in the U.S. and abroad. Requests come from around the country, and the world, for our students to work on projects and develop resources, and the students consistently impress our project partners and clients with the quality and quantity of that work. The Clinic also had the benefit of Columbia Law School Lecturer-in-Law Jenny Ma to help guide our work this semester. Jenny is also a Columbia Law School alumnae and a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The Clinic’s Mission:
The Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic is an intensive learning and working environment that offers students a unique opportunity to hone lawyering and advocacy skills while working directly on cutting edge sexuality and gender law issues. The Clinic provides vital assistance to lawyers and organizations throughout the country, and the world, that advocate for the equality and safety of women and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender individuals.
The Clinic emphasizes multidimensional lawyering - a practice of being strategic, smart and creative in identifying and deploying resources to advocate for social change. Our projects encompass all forms of advocacy, including litigation, public policy development, legislative drafting, training, organizing, public education, and media outreach.
The Clinic’s emphasis on reflective, theoretical inquiry complements this practical strategic training. Students in the Clinic have the important experience of reflecting on the role of the social change lawyer and on specific issues in the area of sexuality and gender law at the same time as they are in the midst of actually participating in the process of lawyering for social change.
The Clinic’s Projects During the 2017-18 Academic Year:
The Clinic has made tremendous contributions in the field of sexuality and gender law during its twelfth year at Columbia Law School. The sampling here helps illustrate the important role the Clinic plays as a resource for organizations around the country working to secure the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: At the request of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the Clinic undertook an in-depth study and co-authored a major report – Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Trends and Recommendations Based on 2017 Public Hearing Testimony. The report, which involved extensive legal research and fact-finding, a digest of a citywide public hearing, and interviews with stakeholders, covers a broad range of industries, including construction, fashion, media, domestic work, tech, finance, hospitality, and others. The Report identifies distinctive characteristics of the City Human Rights Law as enforced by the Commission, examines the common themes that emerged from the oral and written testimony (some of which were addressed in legislation proposed following the Hearing), highlights policy recommendations to combat sexual harassment, and provides best practices for employers. The NYC Commission released the Report in April 2018 as part of a major campaign on the issues; the Report will be a resource for years to come for individuals who have experienced sexual harassment, their allies, and workplaces and communities throughout the City and beyond. To help launch the Report, the full Clinic team was invited to join the First Lady of New York City and the Chair and Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights for a special gathering at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of the City of New York.
Immigration and Asylum: The Clinic prepared an extensive application for asylum for a gay man who fled Nigeria fearing persecution because of his sexual orientation. In addition to preparing the client’s declaration, several witness statements, an expert affidavit, and a report on the rampant state-sponsored discrimination and violence against gay men in Nigeria, clinic students also published a report documenting the serious risks that all Nigeria LGBT individuals face. Other Nigeria LGBT asylum applicants will be able to use the report to document their well-founded fear of returning to their country of origin, thereby extending the reach of the Clinic’s work. The team worked on this case, which is still pending, in collaboration with Immigration Equality, the largest national LGBTQ immigrant rights organization that provides free legal services and policy advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrants. In previous years, the Clinic has won asylum cases for clients from Brazil, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mexico, Peru, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination at Work: At the request of counsel at Lambda Legal, the Clinic filed an amicus brief in support of the claim of a gay man who alleged that his future employer withdrew his job offer after company officials found out he is gay. The case, Horton v. Midwest Geriatric Management, is pending before the 8th circuit. It raises the important question of whether Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Sex Discrimination in Immigration Law: Just a brief follow-up note that the brief prepared by the Clinic last year in Sessions v. Morales-Santana on behalf of Population and Family Law Scholars was cited by the Court, which struck down a federal immigration law that made it harder for fathers than for mothers to pass their U.S. citizenship on to their children.
The Clinic’s Students:
The Clinic has had the benefit of eight outstanding 2L, 3L and LLM students enrolled during the spring term of this academic year, representing a diverse array of backgrounds and legal interests. All told, the students will have put in well over 2400 hours of Clinic work during the school year.
The Clinic’s Faculty:
Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Clinical Professor of Law and co-Director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, as well as Executive Vice President for University Life at Columbia, directs the Clinic. Prior to joining the Columbia faculty, where she also teaches civil procedure, Professor Goldberg was on the faculty of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Through the 1990s, Professor Goldberg was a leading lawyer with Lambda Legal, a national LGBT/HIV civil rights organization. Professor Goldberg received the Columbia Law School Willis L.M. Reese Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2009 and the Columbia Law School Public Interest Faculty Member of the Year Award in 2008. Goldberg also received the Community Vision Award from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York in 2011 and the M. Ashley Dickerson Diversity Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers in 2008. Her scholarship has also won several awards, including three Dukeminier Awards from the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School and the Association of American Law Schools Outstanding Scholarly Paper Award. Professor Goldberg graduated with honors from Brown University and Harvard Law School, and clerked for Justice Marie Garibaldi of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Jenny Ma joined the Clinic’s faculty last year as a lecturer in law. Jenny is a litigator at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which uses the power of the law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights around the world. She has previously worked as a litigation associate at Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler LLP, where she represented interests of amicus curiae in Obergefell v. Hodges and domestic abuse clients petitioning for legal status under the Violence Against Women Act. She clerked for Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Robert W. Sweet of the Southern District of New York. Jenny received her B.A. from Wesleyan University, her M.A. in American Studies from Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and her J.D. from Columbia Law School.