The Workplace Justice Project was created in December 2005 as a response to community need after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. The city saw an influx of new workers attracted by the opportunity to rebuild a city ravaged by water and wind. Many of these workers were discriminated against and saw their wages stolen by their employers. The Workplace Justice Project, in partnership with Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans-Hispanic Apostolate Community Services and the Pro Bono Project, created a Wage Claim Clinic to allow all three partners to combine their strengths in an effort to address discrimination and claims of unpaid wages. In January 2008, all three partners officially began the Wage Claim Clinic, which operates every Thursday night. In September 2011, the project was fully institutionalized under the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.
The Workplace Justice Project, through the participation of Student Practitioners who assist in the Wage Claim Clinic, works toward the goal of educating workers about their rights and the legal process, litigating their claims in order to hold employers accountable and advocating for changes and modifications in the law, where appropriate, so that workers’ working conditions are respected and wages are valued, protected and recovered in the least expensive, most efficient way possible. In this context, Student Practitioners have the opportunity to represent clients from initial interview and counsel to final resolution by negotiation, trial or appeal , in varied causes of action in employment law, including but not limited to state remedies for non-payment of wages, state construction labor liens, state obligations law, Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, American with Disabilities Act, 42 USC §1981, Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986-Anti-Discrimination Provisions, concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act, workers as creditors in Bankruptcy Court and state and federal procedural law. Moreover, the Thursday night clinic affords students the opportunity to develop and improve their interview and writing skills, as well as their ability to make appropriate legal assessments of particular causes of action.
In addition to the work of the Student Practitioners, the Workplace Justice Project relies on the generous assistance of interested and committed volunteers, including law students, licensed attorneys and interpreters. In 2011 alone, in addition to those cases opened for litigation, the Project, through the Wage Claim Clinic, completed intake interviews with 236 new workers, wrote 113 demand letters for unpaid wages and met with a total of 580 workers.