May 15, 2009 - Susannah Ashton ’09 has won second place in the annual Louis Jackson Memorial Student Writing Competition in Labor and Employment Law, a national contest of the Chicago-Kent Law School and Jackson Lewis, a prominent employment and labor law firm. Ashton’s winning paper, “Transgender Teachers as Role Models for a Tolerant Society: The Impact of Societal Views and Their Influence on Employment Anti-Discrimination Laws,” has been published on the Institute for Law and the Workplace website, http://www.kentlaw.edu/ilw/. In addition, Ashton received a $1,000 award.
Her paper was written as part of Ashton’s independent study with Deborah Widiss, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law. “Discrimination on the basis of gender identity is not explicitly prohibited by federal law,” Ashton explained, “and only a handful of states include it in their anti-discrimination laws.” Her paper discusses another hurdle that transgender teachers potentially face in the Role Model Rule created in Chambers v. Omaha Girls Club. That rule protects the rights of employers to take adverse employment actions against those they deem “unsuitable role models” in certain circumstances.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination should be interpreted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, Ashton argues, and adverse action taken against transgender teachers on the basis that they are poor role models for youth violates Title VII, as well as various state and local anti-discrimination laws.
Ashton’s interest in employment law issues began her first summer in law school, when she worked for an employment discrimination law firm, Schwartz & Perry. She has participated in the BLS Employment Law Clinic, and was a teacher’s assistant to Professor Minna J. Kotkin, the clinic’s director. She also interned at the public employee union, District Council 37, served as a law clerk at Vandenberg & Feliu, and as an intern at the Legal Action Center.
Ashton is co-founder with Elizabeth Towell ’09 of Law Students for Veterans Rights. She has attended clinics at the New York City Bar Association to learn how to help homeless veterans receive benefits that they are owed. Raised in Los Gatos, California, she earned her B.A. at the University of California, Santa Cruz.