August 27, 2020

Pioneer Spirit

Shaylyn Cochran has devoted her career to fighting discrimination through class-action lawsuits involving employment discrimination. But recent social upheavals — the #MeToo movement and a reckoning with racial injustice — crystallized Cochran’s thinking on how systemic racism particularly impacts women of color in the workplace. They experience “a compounded impact of discrimination in ways that aren’t always addressed. If you’re not looking for it, you may not see it. Or if you don’t ask the right questions of clients, you may not appreciate all the layers and nuances of discrimination that people might be confronting.”

Trails Blazed

Cochran trained for a career in journalism, drawn to stories about social justice. But when stories were done, “I wanted to keep going and wanted to keep working on the issues I was writing about.” So, she went to law school, hoping to “make a change and help communities, particularly communities of color, that look like those communities I grew up in.” She has won settlements that required Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make online materials accessible to hearing impaired people and that forced BarBri Inc. to make its bar-preparation course materials accessible for the blind. Cochran’s current cases include a class action against Sterling Jewelers on behalf of about 69,000 female retail sales employees.

Future Explorations

Cochran expects website accessibility cases to become more prevalent because “the more that we are turning into an electronic-based society, the more we need to ensure that people who have disabilities are able to access that content like everybody else.” She also thinks employment discrimination cases will evolve to deal with issues that were previously rarely heard, such as implicit bias and microaggressions in the workplace. “All these things are informed by the national dialogue we’re having around race and around sexual harassment and gender.”

View Shaylyn Cochran’s profile here.

View a complete list of 2020 National Law Journal Washington D.C. Trailblazers here.