Empowering Workers' Rights Attorneys
Two days before Paul Tobias passed away, I called Phyllis Tobias to check on Paul and see how they both were doing.
Phyllis informed me that Paul had Alzheimer’s and was at an assisted living facility where she visited him daily. Not surprisingly, Phyllis explained that Paul was still Paul. He was upbeat and gracious, and friendly with all his health care providers and other patients.
Phyllis asked me if I could share a memory of Paul that she could share with Paul the very next day. I told Phyllis I had many great memories of Paul, but here is one he might not remember.
In the early days, Paul came to Washington, D.C., to help us organize as NELA lawyers. We gathered a good number of plaintiffs’ employment lawyers, and Paul gave his usual enthusiastic, energetic pitch for how we could all better serve our clients, help our practices, and advance workers’ rights if we all work together. Paul then turned to me and introduced me to the assembled lawyers. Paul said, “I want you to listen to Bruce Fredrickson, who is one of the giants of the plaintiffs’ employment bar.”
As I stand 5 foot 6, I turned to Paul and said, “Paul, that’s the first time in my life I have ever been described as a ‘giant’ anything,” which brought a big laugh.
Looking back now, what I should have said was: “If I am a giant of the plaintiffs’ employment bar, it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of those giants who came before me, like Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Tobias, Catherine MacKinnon, Jan Goodman, Bob Belton, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Cliff Palefsky, Joe Posner, Joe Garrison, Janet Arterton, Mary Anne Sedey, Barry Goldstein, Gary Simpson, Willie Smith, Fred Gittes, Wayne Outten, Ann Golden, Jim Heller, Doug Huron, Roxanne Conlin, and so many others.”
One of Paul’s dreams was to build a national law firm of plaintiffs’ employment lawyers to share advice, legal strategies, briefs, resources, clients, experts, and most importantly, camaraderie. That, Paul did achieve. If you need some legal research or a brief on a particular issue, ask a NELA lawyer. And thank Paul. Want to talk through a trial strategy with an expert in the field, call a NELA lawyer. And thank Paul. Want to attend a cutting-edge conference on employment law, go to a NELA seminar or convention. And thank Paul. Want to get your battery recharged, go to a NELA conference. And thank Paul.
Remember the roll call of the states at the convention? Why didn’t anyone ever give Paul an alphabetical list of the states in an enlarged font? And remember Paul’s annual charge to the convention, quoting George Washington: “Fire at will!”
Paul was an idea guy, too, not just an organizer. Early on, Paul insisted we create our own Think Tank to outwork and out-think the other defense bar. From Paul’s inspiration, the Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law and Policy was launched. Now, we have the resources to study and fight forced arbitration and summary judgment abuse. Now, our voice can be heard. And thank Paul.
Not one to think small, Paul insisted that we go international. For those who attended, who could forget the trips Paul organized to South Africa or Cuba?
To Paul, the friend of workers and all who fight for workers’ rights, I say: Rest in peace, our good and faithful friend and servant.”
To borrow the words of rock artist, Bruce Springsteen:
May your strength give us strength,
May your faith give us faith,
May your hope give us hope,
May your love give us love.
May we follow in your footsteps for many decades to come in building the beloved community where equal opportunity prevails and social justice reigns.