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2019 Penn Law Commencement Address

April 12, 2019

Penn Law graduate Kalpana Kotagal L’05, an award-winning attorney at Cohen Milstein and a co-creator of the innovative “Inclusion Rider” to be 2019 Commencement speaker

Penn Law’s 3L Class Officers and Dean Ted Ruger have announced that the 2019 Penn Law Commencement address will be delivered by Penn Law graduate Kalpana Kotagal L’05, an award-winning attorney at Cohen Milstein and a co-creator of the innovative “Inclusion Rider” that has been extremely important in efforts to reform hiring practices in Hollywood and other industries.
The 3L Class Officers explored a range of options throughout this year leading up to the Law School’s decision to invite Ms. Kotagal to speak at Commencement on May 20.
As a partner at Cohen Milstein, Kotagal works to address issues of employment and civil rights law, class actions, mandatory arbitration, and diversity in the workplace as a member of the firm’s Civil Rights & Employment practice group. Kotagal is also Chair of the firm’s Hiring and Diversity Committee. Among her many significant cases, Kotagal is representing female sales employees in a Title VII and Equal Pay Act case against one of the nation’s largest jewelry chains in Jock, et al. v Sterling Jewelers Inc.  Her clients have alleged a pattern of sex discrimination in compensation and promotions.  She is also representing former female sales employees in a putative class action against AT&T, alleging violations of the Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act in Allen, et al. v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC.  Earlier in her career, she played an integral role in representing Wal-Mart employees in the landmark Supreme Court case, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which addressed class certification standards.
In collaboration with Dr. Stacy Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni of Pearl Street Films, Kotagal played a central role in working to transform film and television industry hiring practices by creating the Inclusion Rider, a contract provision that actors, directors, and producers can use to negotiate for more diverse and inclusive hiring on set. Earlier this year, she discussed the Inclusion Rider and efforts to remedy workplace inequities in a TEDx talk in Austria.
Kotagal has repeatedly been recognized for her efforts to champion equity, diversity, and inclusion through her practice of law. Most recently, Law360 named her a “2018 MVP – Employment,” an award recognizing the top five most influential employment lawyers in the United States from both the Defense and Plaintiffs bars. Chambers Women in Law: USA awarded her the prestigious “Outstanding Contribution to the Community in Advancing Diversity” Award, and she was selected as a 2018-19 Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow at Harvard Law School.
Outside of her legal practice, she sits on the Board of Directors of A Better Balance and the Board of Advisors of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and is a member of the American Constitution Society’s #Me Too Task Force.  She is the immediate past chair of the governance committee of the Board of Directors of CISV USA, an international youth-empowerment and peace education organization with more than 20 chapters in the United States.
Kotagal graduated from Stanford University with honors, where she was a Morris Udall Scholar. An alumna of Penn Law, she earned her J.D. cum laude and was Articles Editor of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Before joining Cohen Milstein, Kotagal served as a law clerk to the Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Below, watch Kotagal’s conversation with Penn Law where she discusses her work on the ‘inclusion rider’ contractual clause, Academy Award winner Frances McDormand’s promotion of the concept during the end of her acceptance speech at the 90th annual Academy Awards, and how she was asleep when her legal language became national news.