Michelle Parham knows that it takes persistence to build a just society.
At the height of the recession, Michelle was fired from her low-wage job at a bakery. She applied for unemployment benefits. Her former employer hired a consulting company that specializes in blocking benefits to fired workers. This saves the employers money by keeping their unemployment insurance rates low. Working through the consultant, Michelle’s former employer claimed she had quit and was therefore not eligible for unemployment benefits. They won.
Michelle appealed the state’s decision to deny her benefits. She represented herself against the company and their hired gun. She lost at that hearing, too.
Along the way, many people told her to just give up. But Michelle kept going – appealing her case because, as she told us: “there was another ‘Michelle’ before me, and there will be another ‘Michelle’ after me.”
It takes tremendous courage to be this persistent.
Finally, Michelle appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. In a routine review of that court’s docket, we came across her case. We were appalled at the lack of reliable evidence that the employer had submitted to make its case. Michelle remembers the day when the Public Justice Center called to ask her if she wanted help with her case. “It was the best day of my life. Someone finally believed in me.” Finally, with a lawyer representing her, Michelle was able to explain her story to the court and get all of the benefits for which she was eligible. The process had taken more than two years.
Michelle’s courage to keep fighting until she won will make it a bit easier for the many ‘other Michelles’ suffering injustices like this. We honor her persistence and courage.