Legal Clinic For Workplace Issues Opens in Columbia City | KNKX

Legal Clinic For Workplace Issues Opens in Columbia City

Sep 19, 2016

Employees who think they're being treated unfairly at work can now find free legal advice in King County.

The Fair Work Center in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood has opened the county's first legal clinic specializing in workplace issues like pay, safety or discrimination. 

"People are having problems; and they know it's a problem. They're just not apparently sure it has a legal solution," Fair Work Center legal director Liz Ford said.

In 2014, the state Supreme Court surveyed low-income households in Washington about their legal needs. More than one-third of those surveyed said they experienced legal problems at work, but few people actually sought help for those issues.

"So if we can fill that education gap and then fill the legal services gap, then I think we've done something great," Ford said. "And if we can add to that a cohort of lawyers who know how to do this work, [then] I think that's going to help fill the need as well."

'Information Just Kind Of Helps Balance The Power'

Connor Smith is a second-year law student at Seattle University. He took a semester off to work on a fishing boat in Alaska, where he said his boss would limit bathroom breaks and threatened not to pay the crew.

"You just end up feeling totally at the mercy of someone else and completely powerless because the person you're working for has the money," Smith said.

Now, Smith works the center. Law students from Seattle University and University of Washington take a class there and staff the clinic.

When people call, the students listen to their stories, explain options and can file certain claims against an employer.

"Filing a lawsuit is an expensive thing to do," Smith said. "But information – and someone to kind of hold your hand as you push back or write a demand letter – the information just kind of helps balance the power."

The center takes calls and walk-ins at their storefront on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. It also holds monthly community clinics as part of the King County Neighborhood Legal Clinics program.