The Indian Law Clinic is not just about Indian law. Each semester the students receive training in Unemployment compensation law and undertake to represent claimants in administrative hearings before the Office of Administrative Hearings, the state agency that conducts hearings for the Employment Security Department as well as other state government departments.
Unemployment hearings are almost tailor-made for students. When a terminated worker is denied unemployment benefits, he or she can request a hearing. The cases come to us from a state wide organization (that helps workers with their hearings) in the form of an email with intake materials partially gathered. The hearing date may be just a week or two away. The students review the facts, examine the legal issues, consult with the supervisor, interview witnesses, conduct discovery, and prepare for the hearing in a very short time. The hearing itself takes place by phone conference with the client calling in from home, the boss from work and witnesses from wherever they are. Students do the direct examination, cross examine the witnesses for the employer and deliver a closing summation. We can expect a decision around a week after the hearing. All in all, the experience is stressful for the students in a good way, as the steps are the same for each case and the law is usually very clear. After two of these, the increase in confidence among the students is noticeable.
The clinic has helped a number of people receive unemployment benefits to keep their lives together following termination of their employment. One side benefit is we get to take a peek into some very different employment situations. Examples of case where we have been successful include an overworked cook’s aid who was fired for being crabby, a grocery employee who wanted to buy some tomatoes from the discard pile, a forklift operator who bent up some airplane parts (big parts), and a concierge who let a bridesmaid retrieve her dress from her friend’s apartment.