Public Justice Advocacy Clinic

Professor of Clinical Law and Faculty Supervisor: Jeffrey S. Gutman

This civil litigation clinic focuses on employment law, particularly wage and hour and unemployment compensation cases, but it frequently represents clients in disability, identification, probate and Freedom of Information Act cases.  Under Professor Gutman's supervision, students represent low-income clients or non-profit groups in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, D.C. Superior Court, D.C. Court of Appeals, and in administrative courts. We also consider representing clients in other kinds of civil cases which are appropriate for students and are likely to advance the public justice mission of the Clinic. Students' case responsibilities include client interviewing, factual development, legal analysis, drafting of pleadings, motions and briefs, discovery, mediation, and oral advocacy. The classroom component focuses on law and poverty, and on developing a variety of lawyering skills, including client interviewing, case analysis, oral advocacy, litigation document drafting, and negotiations.  

Additional Information

Students are selected based on their potential to provide high quality, client-centered legal services to our client population. Faculty will consider a student’s interest in, and commitment to, public interest and legal services work, but such interest is not required. Faculty aim to select a class with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests, but with a common desire to serve clients and gain invaluable experience. 

Each semester, the Clinics hold an Open House where faculty are available to answer questions about their respective clinics. Students may also contact Professor Gutman to discuss the Clinic or ask specific questions.

Eligibility

  • Students in the second semester of their 2L years and 3L students are eligible to apply. Preference is given to 3L students.
  • Certification by the DC Court of Appeals to practice as a student is required and will be facilitated once a student is accepted into the clinic.
  • Completion or concurrent enrollment in Professional ResponsibilityEvidence, and Trial Advocacy can be helpful, but is not required.

For more information, please login to the Portal. Complete application instructions are available on the Portal approximately one month prior to the registration period.

In general, the Clinic represents clients in wage and hour and unemployment cases. We do not typically represent clients in employment discrimination cases. Most of our cases are through referrals from community partners or the Office of Administrative Hearings. However, the Clinic may accept other kinds of civil cases that will work well with our teaching, student practice, and mission. 

There is no charge for services, although we may ask clients to contribute to certain litigation costs if they are able to do so. We reserve the right to seek attorney’s fees from opposing parties when appropriate. 

If you are interested in talking with us about a case, please call 202.994.7463. If no one answers, please leave a message and we will return your call. 

Language interpretation and translation services are provided as needed.

The scores of students who have participated in the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic over the years have a record of accomplishment of which they can be very proud. To date, PJAC students have successfully represented over 80 low-income clients in DC unemployment compensation appeals, generating an estimated $500,000 for unemployed workers and their families.  

In addition, PJAC students have represented over 70 low-wage workers in wage theft cases, contending that their employers have violated federal or DC wage payment statutes. Many of our clients are Spanish-speaking and work in the construction and restaurant industries. We have also represented several clients in cases claiming that a public accommodation had discriminated against them on the basis of their disability. Together, PJAC students have secured judgments or settlements totaling over $1 million in these cases.

PJAC students have also worked with nearly 20 low-income DC residents in their efforts to secure name change orders or amended birth certificates necessary to obtain DC driver’s licenses or identification cards. These cards unlock opportunities for these clients to obtain needed government benefits.  One such case was featured on the cover of the GW Law Magazine.

We have also successfully represented local nonprofits and individuals in obtaining records sought under the federal or District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act. Our clients have obtained the records necessary to advocate for legal reforms, to shine a light on government or other misconduct, and to perform necessary academic research.  

The following are examples of recent cases in which Public Justice Advocacy Clinic students and faculty have successfully represented clients:

Unemployment Compensation Cases

  • Successfully represented a group house manager accused of insubordination.
  • Obtained unemployment benefits for a security guard who had originally been denied benefits due to alleged theft.
  • Persuaded an administrative law judge, in two separate cases, to reverse the denial of benefits to food service workers wrongly accused of assaulting co-workers.
  • Persuaded an administrative law judge to reverse the denial of benefits to a building engineer accused of violating company rules on moonlighting.
  • Successfully represented a nonprofit employee fired for missing work time due to symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Obtained unemployment benefits for a client by successfully arguing that, under the circumstances, the client, a security guard who fell asleep on the job, had not engaged in gross misconduct.
  • Persuaded an administrative law judge to award benefits to a security guard who resigned her job because of an illness caused by her employment.
  • Obtained unemployment benefits for a woman who had been terminated shortly after complaining of sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Obtained unemployment benefits for a man fired after leaving his job to care for a severely ill relative.
  • Persuaded an administrative law judge to reverse the denial of benefits to a man who left his shift early from a location far from home during a weather emergency.
  • Obtained benefits for a woman terminated from national retail chain for leaving her shift, with permission, to care for her children.

Freedom of Information Act Cases

  • Represented Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in Freedom of Information Act cases to obtain documents relating to President Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in May 2017 and to obtain records regarding the defunding of grants to groups fighting white nationalism. (CREW v. NSA, No. 18-00569; CREW v. DHS, No. 19-03544.)
  • Represented the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless in a case seeking records documenting complaints about homeless shelters and the agency administering them. (WLCH v. DHS, No. 2020 CA 001678.)
  • Filed and won a Freedom of Information Act case seeking data relating to the Medicare Advantage Program on behalf of a George Washington University professor. Biles v. CMS, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39269, 2013 WL 1154207 (D.D.C. Mar. 21, 2013).
  • Filed and settled on favorable terms a federal Freedom of Information Act case seeking records relating to the District of Columbia's implementation of a federal settlement governing accessibility to homeless shelters. Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless v. U.S. Department of Justice, No.11-2023 (D.D.C.).
  • Successfully litigated a Freedom of Information Act case on behalf of the National Security Archive against the SEC seeking documents relati​​ng to the relationship between Chiquita Brands International and armed militia organizations in Colombia. Chiquita Brands v. SEC, 10 F.Supp.3d 1 (D.D.C. 2013),aff’d, 805 F.3d 289 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

District of Columbia Court of Appeals Cases

  • Represented a family in a mediation arising from a dispute with the District of Columbia government about a land use matter.
  • Successfully appealed a denial of unemployment to the D.C. Court of Appeals for a client who was late to or absent from work on many occasions due to health emergencies and car trouble. Students represented the client at the initial hearing before an Administra​tive Law Judge and briefed the case before the D.C. Court of Appeals. The court reversed the ALJ and ordered that benefits be paid. Hamilton v. Hojeij Branded Food, Inc. 41 A.3d 464 (D.C. 2012).
  • Prevailed in a case before the D.C. Court of Appeals seeking attorney's fees for law student time in a worker's compensation case. Copeland v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 3 A.3d 331 (D.C. 2010).

Superior Court Cases

  • Successfully represented a woman in enforcing a judicial order requiring the D.C. Bureau of Vital Statistics to issue her a birth certificate so that she could obtain D.C. identification documents.
  • Represented the family of a deceased Nepalese environmentalist probate a District of Columbia estate.
  • Represented disabled woman in probate case leading to her receipt of a substantial sum from her father’s estate.
  • Secured a judgment, following a day-long trial, for a worker not fully paid for his services on a home painting project.
  • Defended a woman caring for a disabled granddaughter against claims that she had waived her rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.
  • Won a D.C. Superior Court judgment for over $12,000 for a cleaning company employee who was not properly paid for her work. After the debtor refused to pay the judgment, students worked for over a year to locate assets that could be seized and successfully garnished the entire amount owed.
  • Filed and favorably settled several suits on behalf of Spanish-speaking construction workers for wages not paid by a large local developers.
  • Filed and settled on favorable terms many cases on behalf of restaurant workers denied overtime and/or minimum wages.