(Sacramento, CA) – During the State Assembly’s Woman of the Year celebration at the State Capitol today, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) honored attorney Joan Messing Graff for her half-century-long fight for equality and economic justice in the workplace.
“The breadth of Joan’s work in fighting for low-wage workers is truly remarkable,” said Ting. “She has not only been fighting against workplace sexual harassment for decades before the #metoo movement arose, but she has also worked tirelessly during that time to protect all workers, regardless of immigration status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, familial association, past military service, or disability.”
“I am deeply honored to be selected for this award by Assemblymember Ting, and accept the award on behalf of my organization, Legal Aid at Work,” said Graff. “Our clients—low-wage workers from oppressed communities—are the victims of sexual harassment, disability discrimination, wage theft, and threats of deportation. In these uncertain economic times, they are often working longer hours for less pay. And they are finding it harder to balance the ever-increasing demands of their jobs with their responsibilities to their loved ones at home.”
“Fortunately, there is a ray of hope in California,” said Graff. “Our state has active public agencies that vigorously enforce its labor and employment laws, a rich network of nonprofit organizations that advocate for expanded workplace protections, and legislators like Assemblyman Ting who are enacting cutting-edge workplace reforms. Of course, much work remains to be done, and we at Legal Aid at Work look forward to collaborating with Assemblyman Ting and others to ensure that California remains at the forefront of this indispensable movement.”
Graff received her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1967 and her undergraduate degree from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1964. She began her legal career working in the General Counsel’s office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before founding one of the first nonprofit feminist law offices in the nation devoted to securing equality for women. In 1981, Graff was selected to become the Executive Director of Legal Aid at Work, becoming the first woman to hold that prominent leadership position at a time when there were comparatively few women in the legal profession at all. She has transformed Legal Aid at Work from a small, locally focused nonprofit to one with four times the staff and budget that serves thousands of workers of all stripes throughout California. Today, Legal Aid at Work provides free direct legal services to low-wage workers, educates workers and the public about their legal rights, prosecutes lawsuits in court to enforce and expand workplace protections, and advocates for changes in the law to better protect the working poor.
Each Assemblymember chooses a Woman of the Year from his or her district. During the Woman of the Year celebration, each honoree is introduced on the Assembly Floor and receives a resolution highlighting their accomplishments. This event has been a Capitol tradition since 1987. March is also Women’s History Month.
About Legal Aid at Work:
Legal Aid at Work is a nonprofit legal services organization that has been assisting California’s low-income, working families for more than 100 years. Its programs conduct outreach, provide direct legal services to thousands of people each year, engage in litigation when necessary, and advocate for policies that strengthen the rights of low-income people. More information about Legal Aid at Work can be found at www.legalaidatwork.org.