Professor Minna J. Kotkin, Longtime Educator and Trailblazing Employment Lawyer, Dies at 70
Kotkin, who joined the faculty in 1984, was professor of law and director of the Federal Litigation Clinic and the Employment Law Clinic, specializing in employment discrimination law and sexual harassment issues. She also taught civil procedure, administrative law, civil rights law, and interviewing and counseling.
“Minna has been a treasured friend and a valued colleague for decades,” said Dean Michael T. Cahill. “Her contributions to the legal community were many and wide-ranging, serving as a doctrinal and clinical teacher, an insightful scholar, a central member of the Law School’s Sparer community, and an active leader in the wider academic community. Her lifelong commitment to justice and equity for all was impactful and inspiring. Our entire community grieves this loss.”
In 2020, in response to the nationwide shutdown of businesses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kotkin launched the Pandemic Employment Relief Clinic (PERC), which rallied hundreds of law students to help New York workers who had been displaced, particularly freelance or gig workers. In recognition of this work, the Law School received the New York State Bar Association President’s Pro Bono Service Award.
“At the height of the pandemic last summer, when the need was most urgent, I was gratified to see so many students sign up to serve the most vulnerable members of our community,” Kotkin said of the award.
A vocal advocate for the rights of the disempowered, Kotkin wrote and lectured extensively on issues of employment discrimination, with a particular emphasis on sexual harassment and confidentiality. In 2019, she testified before the New York State Legislature in a joint Senate and Assembly Public Hearing on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. It was the first public hearing on harassment held by New York lawmakers in nearly 30 years, prompted by an increase in reported incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace. She was also called upon frequently to discuss employment discrimination and sexual harassment in the media, including the Washington Post, The New York Times, HuffPost, NPR, PBS Newshour and Wired, among other national outlets.
“Losing Minna as a friend and colleague is devastating,” said Professor Stacy Caplow, Associate Dean for Experiential Education. “She was a pioneer clinical educator and a prominent voice both in that world and among employment lawyers. A consummate teacher and litigator, she was a role model and mentor to her students in both the Federal Litigation and the Employment Law Clinics. As a public interest lawyer, she valiantly fought for her clients while inspiring her students to do well by doing good. Everyone she touched benefitted from her wisdom and example. We will all miss her deeply.”
A pioneer and leader in the clinical legal education community, Kotkin served at various times as the chair of the Association of American Law Schools’ Sections on Litigation and Clinical Legal Education, on the steering committee of the Association's Equal Justice Project, on the board of editors of the Clinical Law Review, and on the boards of directors of the Global Alliance for Justice Education, Disability Advocates, Inc., the Eastern District of New York Litigation Fund, MFY Legal Services, and Manhattan Legal Services.
She spent time as a visiting scholar at New York University School of Law, the University of East London, and the University of Cape Town. Before joining the Law School’s faculty, she was the litigation director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and a litigation associate at Proskauer Rose. She graduated from Rutgers University Law School, where she was editor-in-chief of the law review, and Barnard College.
Kotkin is survived by her partner, Deena Hellman, her sons, Eli and Sam Stillman, and their father, Joseph Stillman.
Plans for a memorial event at the Law School will be announced.