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A Tribute to LDF Alum Sheila Thomas

The NAACP Authorized Protection and Instructional Fund, Inc. (LDF) mourns the lack of Sheila Y. Thomas, who was a member of LDF’s inaugural class of Skadden Fellows. An achieved lawyer who litigated numerous employment discrimination instances over her decades-long profession, Thomas additionally labored as a non secular counselor, viewing spiritual follow as inseparable from the pursuit of justice. She handed away on August 9 after a battle with most cancers.

“For Sheila Thomas, the legislation was a vocation within the truest sense of the phrase,” mentioned Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “Her objective was by no means merely to win instances; it was to make justice a actuality within the lives of atypical ladies and men. All through her outstanding profession as each a litigator and counselor, she achieved precisely that. Her passing is a loss not just for these of us who have been lucky to know her, however to a world in determined want of significant justice and true compassion. She might be sorely missed.”

(Sheila Thomas and LDF alumnus and retired Chief Decide U.W. Clemon of the U.S. District Court docket for the Northern District of Alabama on the LDF 75th Reunion Occasion)

Thomas was a graduate of Yale College and the Georgetown College Regulation Heart. After incomes her J.D., Thomas joined LDF’s Washington, D.C. workplace in August of 1989 as a part of the group’s first cohort of Skadden Fellows. Throughout her two years at LDF, she participated in a 1989 problem to Arkansas’s legislative redistricting plan – leading to what was then the biggest redistricting ever ordered below the Voting Rights Act – and two main employment discrimination instances Patterson v. McLean Credit score Union and Lytle v. Schwitzer.

Thomas left LDF in 1991 to enter non-public follow, becoming a member of Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, a San Francisco-based employment class-action legislation agency. Within the early 2000s, she served as director of litigation at Equal Rights Advocates, Inc. a ladies’s advocacy group, the place she continued her concentrate on employment discrimination. Thomas additionally devoted her time to various boards as co-chair of Civil Rights Committee of American Bar Affiliation (ABA) Particular person Rights & Obligations Part, a member of the manager committee of ABA on Civil Rights & Social Justice and the Influence Fund & Development Undertaking. Ultimately, she opened her personal follow in Oakland, CA, serving to to litigate Dukes v. Wal-Mart Shops, Inc., during which almost 1.5 million ladies sued the world’s largest non-public employer for systematic discrimination. The case reached the Supreme Court docket in 2011, leading to a controversial 5-Four choice in Wal-Mart’s favor. She usually partnered with LDF in her work, notably becoming a member of an LDF delegation to a 2012 White House meeting in regards to the alarming variety of vacancies on the federal judiciary.

“Sheila Thomas’ dedication to her shoppers and her craft each as an LDF lawyer and later in non-public follow demonstrated excellence, dedication and thorough preparation,” mentioned former LDF President and Director-Counsel Elaine Jones. “For over 30 years she dealt with instances that eliminated discriminatory limitations and elevated equity within the office for numerous staff. We owe her gratitude for using her finely-honed abilities and appreciable abilities in implementing the nation’s civil rights legal guidelines on behalf of us all.”

In 2003, Thomas started working as a non secular counselor along with her authorized follow. In 2011, she started pursuing a grasp’s diploma in divinity on the Pacific Faculty of Faith – a alternative, she later wrote, that “baffled” a few of her associates and colleagues. Though she admitted to her personal doubts about finding out for a grasp’s whereas sustaining her authorized follow – the work, she wrote, usually amounted to 2 full-time jobs – she was agency in her conviction that her non secular pursuits complemented her work as a lawyer. In a 2015 blog post, she wrote, “Working as a lawyer with my colleagues on civil rights points, I discover that many civil rights advocates make a concerted effort to separate faith and/or non secular issues from the precise authorized, social and political points on which they focus. For me, as a licensed non secular counselor and a practising lawyer, the 2 are intertwined. Though I don’t overtly speak about faith and/or spirituality with my authorized shoppers, I deliver each units of abilities to the desk as I serve them, as a result of my non secular practices inform who I’m in each side of my life.” She earned her M.Div. in 2014.

Sheila Thomas Headshot

(Sheila Thomas)

In July of 2017, Thomas closed her authorized follow and joined the California Division of Truthful Employment and Housing as a senior workers counsel. She additionally continued her counseling work and wrote usually on her web site. In one among her closing posts, a reflection on the opening of the Nationwide Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL, in April, she expressed hope that the museum, a commemoration of the victims of lynching in the US, would possibly assist foster the values to which she devoted her life:

“…[I]t is my prayer that the peace and justice that serves as the inspiration for the memorial will result in a legacy the place we see the historical past of slavery as not one thing to run from however slightly a time on this nation that have to be acknowledged, addressed and healed so that we will then see the connections between this horrific previous and the present dehumanization of descendants of the enslaved on this nation. We will then act to rectify this historical past and turn out to be a greater America.”

Sheila is survived by her brother, sister-in-law, niece and numerous associates. Companies for Sheila Thomas might be held in September and we’ll publish the data on this web site. We encourage you to ship your private tributes or pictures to us so as to add to this web site to [email protected].


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