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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Professor Joan C. Williams Wins Prestigious Beckman Award for Inspiring Students

Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of the Law, has been awarded $25,000 from the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Trust, which each year honors educators who have inspired their students to public service.

Williams worked with Jamie Dolkas ’08 while Dolkas served as a fellow at the Center for WorkLife Law, of which Williams is the founding director. As a fellow, Dolkas researched laws that provide workplace rights for family caregivers, analyzed litigation trends, and wrote numerous scholarly articles with Williams. Her latest contribution is a piece Williams and Dolkas collaborated on in “Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance,” published in April 2012 by New York University Press.

As a law student, Dolkas worked as a research assistant at the Center for WorkLife Law, and then took Professor Williams’ course on Gender and the Law, where Williams encouraged her to find her voice and contribute. Later, as a research fellow at the center, Williams “invested in me. She took a chance on me, on my analysis, and it built my confidence,” Dolkas said.

Dolkas currently works as a Staff Attorney at Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a national nonprofit law firm located in San Francisco that’s dedicated to advocating for gender equity in employment and education.  Dolkas represents women and girls in various aspects of ERA’s litigation, writes publications, manages ERA’s legal advice and counseling hotline, leads policy advocacy, and supervises law clerks.  She was part of the legal team representing plaintiffs before the U.S. Supreme Court in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a suit brought by women seeking class action status for their sex discrimination suit alleging low pay and lack of advancement for women employees.

The high court ruled in Wal-Mart’s favor, saying the plaintiffs did not have enough in common to constitute a class. However, ERA and co-counsel continue to litigate and have filed amended regional class action complaints in several states.

Dolkas and Williams recently collaborated on California legislation, AB 1999, to protect family caregivers from workplace discrimination. The bill did not pass, but ERA and its allies hope to introduce similar legislation in the future. “In my 32 years of teaching, I have had some amazing students –but even among them, Jamie stands out. She is passionate about women’s rights, and brings to her work creativity and force that are inspiring. I feel honored to have played a role in helping her shape her career.”

Dolkas said she “pays it forward” by mentoring young attorneys interested in public interest law. “I learned so much from Professor Williams; how to communicate about issue that matter, and how to important it is to mentor others, all by watching her.”

Since its inception in 2008, the Beckman trust has awarded more than $500,000 to educators in the fields of psychology, medicine, and law.

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