Jarron McAllister L’20 is a Penn Catalyst Fellow at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ).
Q: Tell us about your fellowship, including where you’re working, the problems that you’re responding to, and the goals of your project.
A: My fellowship year is with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), an economic justice non-profit organization based in New York City.
The organization has four core practice areas: public benefits, workers’ rights, fair fines and fees, and disability rights. During my tenure I have focused on issues related to workers’ rights and public benefits both inside and outside of New York state. My main projects have included litigation aimed at ensuring that New York public assistance recipients who engage in work experience programs have the value of this work credited at the minimum wage; challenging Louisiana’s unemployment insurance system in order to secure due process hearings and pre-termination notice of benefits for claimants across the state; and legislative advocacy aimed at passing the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) bill to increase protections for low-wage workers who are being subjected to wage theft.
Q: How did your experiences before and during law school lead you to this project or public interest generally?
A: My experiences before law school shaped my approach to my legal studies and this fellowship year. Following my undergraduate education, I worked as a Legal Assistant at a civil rights and employment law firm in Michigan. Most of my work focused on supporting litigation that attempted to secure monetary damages for people from my hometown who were affected by the Flint Water Crisis. I spent a great deal of time interviewing clients, learning about the litigation strategy from the attorneys, and finding ways to engage with the community (including town halls and monthly newsletters). Additionally, I assisted with the firm’s regular intake, where I spoke with potential clients about workplace discrimination, Michigan’s unemployment insurance problems, and other civil rights issues.
While in law school, I built on my time as a Legal Assistant in my coursework, pro bono work, internships, and externships. In an effort to learn more about the substantive law related to employment, I took employment law, employment discrimination, and employee benefits.
Outside of the classroom, I was a Student Advocate and Managing Advocate for Penn’s Employment Advocacy Project, where I represented unemployment insurance claimants. Additionally, I interned with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia in the Public Benefits Unit, where I learned more about various social safety net systems and deepened my understanding of the struggles that low-wage workers encounter. Finally, I assisted attorneys at a Philadelphia plaintiff-side law firm, helping with filings and research in their Employment and Unpaid Wages Unit.
All of this led me to apply to NCLEJ, where I have been able to use my exposure to workers’ rights issues, including my public benefits internship and employment related experiences, to advocate for Black and queer low-wage workers and to work in the public interest.
Q: Thus far, what accomplishment during your fellowship are you most proud of?
A: At this point, I am most proud of the legislative advocacy that I have been a part of. Seeing lawyers, advocates, and policymakers work towards creating a more just systems (like a more equitable partial-unemployment system in New York state) for low-wage workers has been heartening. It has also encouraged me to continue to work hard to ensure that more state systems are equitable for Black and queer low-wage workers.