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Berkeley Law Duo Sweeps National Disability Law Writing Competition

Rachel Schwartz ’13 and Martin Quinones ’13

By Andrew Cohen

Second-year classmates Martin Quinones ’13 and Rachel Schwartz ’13 have won first and second place, respectively, in the annual Adam A. Milani Disability Law Writing Competition. It marks the second straight year that Berkeley Law swept the top two spots in the national competition, with Tracy Tefertiller ’12 and Emily Prifogle ’12 prevailing last year.

Sponsored by Mercer University School of Law and the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, the Milani Competition promotes greater interest in disability law and civil rights, as well as stellar legal writing skills. Named for the late Adam Milani, a former disability rights activist and renowned scholar, the competition solicits student-written trial or appellate briefs on disability law, theory, or practice.

Quinones and Schwartz submitted briefs they wrote last spring in their first-year Written and Oral Advocacy sections taught by Sarah Laubach ’05 and Michelle Cole. Their winning entries were selected out of more than 70 submitted by law students from across the country. Quinones will receive a $600 prize, Schwartz a $400 prize.

Quinones said the competition aligned nicely with his work as a director of the East Bay Workers’ Rights Clinic. “We’re opening a new offshoot clinic that’ll focus on issues facing workers with disabilities,” he said, “so arguing a cutting-edge workplace discrimination claim was particularly fulfilling.”

This year’s competition was based on a real case that centered a Title VII claim under the Civil Rights Act. At a Nevada fast-food restaurant that bordered the Navajo Nation, most employees were bilingual in Navajo and English while the owner spoke only English. After an employee complained in Navajo of being harassed by a co-worker, the owner implemented a rule that employees only speak English on the job.

Four employees refused to sign the new policy and were fired. They filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the owner, alleging that his rule discriminated against the workers on the basis of race and national origin. Quinones and Schwartz were both assigned to write a brief supporting the owner’s motion for summary judgment, and asserted that a restaurant policy requiring employees to speak only English while working does not amount to discrimination under Title VII.

“I argued that because all of the employees were also fluent in English, there was no significant adverse effect on them and that the restaurant also had several business necessities that justified the policy,” Schwartz said. “I worked all semester on the brief, so it was exciting to enter a national writing competition and gratifying to be recognized.”