We lost a giant of a man, and the greatest advocate for workers’ rights.
I was a sole practitioner representing workers in Massachusetts in the early 70’s. It was very lonesome out there, and I was getting burned out. I attended a conference on employment discrimination in New York. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the featured speakers. I went up to her after the talk and asked her how many lawyers represented workers in New York. She told me, “You can count them on one hand.” We had few resources and other lawyers to share experiences and help us be more effective advocates for our clients.
Then one day, out of the blue, my prayers were answered. I got a call from this guy in Cincinnati in the early 80’s. “Hi, I’m Paul Tobias. I hear you’re the guy to talk to in Massachusetts about employment rights. I want to start an association of employment lawyers for plaintiffs.” Who is this guy? How did he find me? Paul met with me to talk to about starting a new association of lawyers advocating for the rights of workers. Thus, began our thirty-five year friendship.
We needed to build a network of lawyers to share our experiences and knowledge, to help each other, to help workers navigate the few rights they had. Paul’s bold vision became the Plaintiffs’ Employment Lawyers Association (now the National Employment Lawyers Association). His classmate, Ralph Nader, was the consumer law advocate. Paul was THE Workers’ Advocate. With his help and guidance, I started the Massachusetts PELA Chapter and served on the initial National Executive Board.
Although we only saw each other at the annual NELA conventions, we would speak often on the phone. Sometimes about the law. Sometimes about our books. Sometimes about baseball. When I had a question or a problem, Paul was always there for me to talk to. He was never too busy to help others. His passion was infectious.
I retired from active practice after more than 35 years and 200 trials, because my brother needed me to help in the family business, a summer amusement park in Old Orchard Beach. The thing I missed most was not going to the annual NELA conventions and talking with Paul on his 5K runs (walks really).
Paul was a visionary. The world is a better place because of what Paul did for the advancement of workers’ rights. The good he did will live after him, but he will be sorely missed. I was blessed to have him as a friend and mentor for 35 years.