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Two Brooklyn Law School Students Take Top Prizes in National Student Writing Competition

04/06/2020

Elizabeth Potter ’20 and Emily Spanyer Sanford ’20, were awarded the top two prizes in the 2019-2020 Louis Jackson Memorial National Student Writing Competition. Potter placed first for her manuscript “Revoking Religious Employers’ License to Discriminate: How to Limit the Ministerial Exception to What the First Amendment Requires After Hosanna–Tabor,” winning a $3,000 scholarship. Sanford won one of two second-place prizes for her manuscript “Equality in Parental Leave: How Women Can Achieve Workplace Parity Through Equal Parental Leave Policies,” and was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

“I was thrilled to learn that two students who wrote papers for my fall semester Employment Law class won both first and second place in this prestigious national labor and employment law writing competition,” said Professor Minna Kotkin, who specializes in employment discrimination law and sexual harassment issues and is also director of the Employment Law Clinic. “This is one of the few times that this award has been won by two students from the same school, and we should be very proud of their work.”

Potter’s manuscript focused on the ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws, giving religious organizations the right to discriminate without liability. “Since Hosanna–Tabor, the Supreme Court decision allowing the exception, there has been a split in the circuit courts as to how it should be applied,” said Potter. “I argue that the exception should be read really narrowly, especially as it applies to lower wage employees, such as nursery school teachers and organists.” Potter has a keen interest in issues of employment discrimination, having worked at organizations such as A Better Balance, a legal nonprofit focused on ensuring that employees are able to balance work and family.

Sanford chose to take employment law because of her background in legal recruiting at a large firm, and the topic for her paper came through her interest in employment policies at law firms. She focuses specifically on a case in which a firm offered an additional 8-week parental leave to women automatically, but would not grant the additional time to men who were primary caregivers. “My examination of this case is a study of how the millennial workforce is changing presumptions about gender and caregiving,” said Sanford. “Even though it looks like women benefit from this policy, I argue that granting women an automatic leave that is not granted equally to men actually hurts them in the workplace.”

“I appreciate Professor Kotkin’s help and guidance and for encouraging us to submit,” said Potter. “It was also a wonderful opportunity to take her class and learn employment law from someone who has been a real voice and advocate for workers.”

The competition is underwritten by Jackson Lewis in honor of founding partner Louis Jackson and administered by the Institute for Law and the Workplace at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. It recognizes the best legal writing in the field of labor and employment law among current law students. The committee of five judges is drawn from among the most preeminent labor and employment law scholars in the country, and entries are judged blind.