September 20, 2022
From defending workers’ rights to advancing race equity, attorney Tyra Robinson’s steadfast advocacy has consistently pushed corporations, our state, and the Public Justice Center toward our vision of a just and equitable society. As a member of the PJC’s Workplace Justice Project (WJP) for the past three years, Tyra has advocated to defend sick and safe leave protections, prevent employers from discriminating based on natural hairstyles and textures, and protect job applicants from employer inquiries about salary history. They have demanded employers pay unpaid wages and pursued reform of Maryland’s unemployment insurance system. They have worked to incorporate race equity in the PJC’s external advocacy and internal operations and brought on new colleagues through service on several hiring committees. As Tyra moves on to private practice with a plaintiffs’-side employment law firm, we wanted to express our gratitude for all that they have accomplished at the PJC and share the following highlights:
In the Maryland General Assembly, Tyra advocated to defend and expand workers’ rights on a number of fronts. The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which protects workers’ rights to sick and safe leave, has faced persistent attempts from corporate interests to weaken it. Tyra successfully defended the law, providing oral and written testimony that reminded legislators that workers should not have to choose between their jobs and their health. Tyra also gave oral and written testimony that helped pass the CROWN Act, which prevents race discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles, and amend the Equal Pay for Equal Work law to prevent employers from asking job applicants about their previous salary history.
In both state and federal courts, Tyra represented workers seeking to recover unpaid wages and address systemic barriers to accessing unemployment insurance. In Aguilar v. David E. Harvey Builders, they represented construction workers who performed drywall work on a new Gold’s Gym in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in order to hold both the contractor and subcontractor accountable for the workers’ unpaid wages. Tyra and the WJP also collaborated on a major lawsuit with unemployed workers, our co-counsel Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP, and union partner UNITE HERE! Local 7 to halt Governor Larry Hogan’s attempt to prematurely cut off federal pandemic unemployment insurance. The victory in D.A. v. Hogan kept an estimated $1.5 billion in federal benefits flowing for approximately 200,000 unemployed Marylanders while they looked for work. Following the win, Tyra provided an overview of the litigation for the PJC’s Justice for Breakfast discussion series and a clinic course at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Building on the momentum from the case, at Tyra’s urging, WJP, Gallagher Evelius & Jones, and a group of Marylanders then turned to addressing numerous systemic problems with Maryland’s administration of unemployment insurance, including delays in processing applications; delays and interruptions in payment of benefits; and state claims of overpaying, and then cutting off, benefits without explanation or a chance to appeal. The team filed Gorres v. Robinson in November 2021, seeking to require Maryland Department of Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson to correct systemic failures to administer unemployment insurance to Marylanders in accordance with the United States Constitution and federal Social Security Act.
In addition to serving on the Workplace Justice Project, Tyra made significant contributions to the PJC as an organization. As a leader on our Race Equity Team, Tyra advanced efforts to incorporate race equity into our external advocacy and internal operations. They invited a race equity expert to present to staff on race equity in legislative advocacy. They recommended and coordinated engagement of a staff-wide race equity facilitator, as well as co-facilitated race equity training and orientation sessions for staff. They also served on several hiring committees for attorney, paralegal, and executive director positions.
For the many ways that Tyra has had an impact, we say thank you. We wish them well and know they will continue to champion workers’ rights and race equity in their next endeavors.