New UC Law Center to Fight Inequality Alongside WorkLife Law

Twenty-five years after co-founding a center that has advanced the rights of millions of workers and students, Sullivan Professor Joan C. Williams is launching a new center to expand on and grow off the work of the still vibrant Center for WorkLife Law.

Joan Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law, is launching the new Equality Action Center at UC Law SF this summer.

Starting this summer, Williams will lead the new Equality Action Center (EAC) at UC Law SF, which will carry on WorkLife Law’s leadership and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs while starting a new venture to help heal the nation’s growing class divide.

“I’ve focused on many legal areas over my long career as a professor,” Williams said. “This is breaking off one area of work that will focus on leadership programs, DEI initiatives, and bridging the diploma divide in American politics.”

Known as a global thought leader and “rock star” in the field of workplace bias and diversity, Williams has helped steer WorkLife Law’s efforts over the last quarter century to expand legal protections for mothers, family caregivers, and pregnant and breastfeeding workers.

Among its many successes, the center has produced research to expose gender and racial bias in various job sectors, pioneered the use of Title IX to protect pregnant and parenting students, and changed the cultural narrative from one of mothers cheerfully “opting out” to one of mothers pushed out by hostile workplaces—all while keeping issues of race, class and gender at the forefront.

WorkLife Law’s Deputy Director Liz Morris and Senior Staff Attorney Jessica Lee will become co-directors of the center starting this summer.

Williams didn’t achieve these outcomes alone. By her side for almost the last decade were WorkLife Law’s Deputy Director Liz Morris and Senior Staff Attorney Jessica Lee, both of whom were instrumental in passing and implementing two new federal laws that protect pregnant and breastfeeding workers: The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.

Lee and Morris will assume new roles as co-directors of WorkLife Law this summer. Together, they plan to carry on the center’s efforts to fight discrimination in jobs and education through research, advocacy, grassroots partnerships, and direct assistance to students and workers.

Some of their recent projects include operating the nation’s first and only legal resource center for pregnant and parenting students, building legal rights for pregnant farmworkers through the Dar a Luz initiative, and working to ensure employees and students are not penalized for their reproductive health choices.

“We want to build a country where people don’t have to sacrifice their family or their health to earn a degree or continue working and keep a roof over their heads,” Lee said.

WorkLife Law Senior Vice President Jamie Dolkas will join Williams at EAC, bringing the center’s successful leadership programs with her. 

Williams said much of the center’s success stems from its interdisciplinary approach, using social science research to document gender and racial bias in the workplace. That research provided the foundation for successful programs, including Bias Interrupters, which has helped dozens of companies improve worker diversity and performance through evidence-based interventions.

The new EAC will continue to run the Bias Interrupters program. It will also carry on the highly acclaimed Leadership Academy for Women Partners, an executive education course that supports the success of women law firm partners and in-house counsel. Additionally, EAC will keep running Women’s Leadership Edge, a corporate membership program that offers various programs to help women, people of color, and first-generation professionals excel in the workplace.

The EAC is also launching a new initiative called Bridging the Diploma Divide, which aims to “fix the broken relationship between college and noncollege voters.” It will provide roadmaps for reframing divisive issues and offer guidance on how to build cross-class support for tackling issues such as income inequality and climate change.

WorkLife Law Research Director Rachel Korn will join Williams and Dolkas at the EAC starting this summer.

“A lot of the ways that progressives talk hand a loaded gun to people who promote far-right policies, and I’m trying to explain how they can be more effective at building interracial cross-class coalitions,” Williams said.

WorkLife Law’s Senior Vice President Jamie Dolkas and Research Director Rachel Korn will join Williams at EAC. Dolkas has been spearheading the work of Bias Interrupters and leadership programs in recent years. Korn has researched the impacts of gender and racial bias in workplaces and helped develop effective strategies to address those problems.

As she embarks on a new chapter in her career, Williams said she feels heartened to know that two organizations with track records of success and high-quality talent will move the world closer to a place where race, gender, and class inequality no longer exist.

“I can’t believe how lucky I am to have two amazing leaders in Liz Morris and Jessica Lee to continue carrying on this work that has really shaped and defined my life,” Williams said. “And to be continuing to work with people like Jamie Dolkas and Rachel Korn–they are really making a huge difference in people’s daily lives.”