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Aug. 5 — Gail Golman Holtzman taught high school English for five years and uses many of the same talents when practicing labor and employment law and participating in bar activities.
As an English teacher, she spent her time interpreting literature and writing. As a partner at Jackson Lewis in Tampa, Fla., she interprets the law and writes “all the time.” She also does “a lot of speaking and training,” but now her presentations are made to clients and bar organizations instead of to teenagers. “I find the skills are transferable” from teaching to law, she told Bloomberg BNA during a series of telephone interviews.
Holtzman will become the chair of the American Bar Association's Section of Labor and Employment Law Aug. 6 during the ABA's annual convention in San Francisco. “I'm so humbled, honored [and] privileged,” she said, for the “opportunity to lead this section,” which has about 16,000 members nationwide.
One of her top priorities as chair will be continuing the section's diversity and inclusiveness initiatives. The section will provide diversity training for ABA leaders during the convention. “We believe it's important for our section to be on the forefront of diversity,” Holtzman said. “The richness of any organization is due to having different perspectives,” she said.
She also hopes to foster “meaningful volunteerism,” she said. “I want everybody to feel that their time counts” as they work on the section's programs to promote diversity, leadership training and continuing legal education, she said.
True to her teaching background, Holtzman said she's very excited about the jury trial institute the section recently decided to start. “The opportunity to try cases has been diminished” by the growth of mediation and alternative dispute resolution, so many lawyers aren't familiar with jury trials, she said. To help them bolster their skills, the section will offer its first jury trial training program in 2017.
Holtzman herself has been very active in mediation. “Florida was on the forefront” of the spread of mediation, and she's been certified as a circuit civil mediator by the Florida Supreme Court for about 17 years. “The skills that it takes to be a successful civil mediator have helped me to resolve cases as a litigator as well,” she said.
“I've been able to use early resolution—whether it's through dismissal, summary judgment or mediation—and I'm proud of that,” she said. “I've been able to resolve through mediation some high-profile cases that could've been subject to adverse publicity.”
In one of her most memorable cases, she convinced a federal district court to dismiss a discrimination claim against her client, the Diocese of St. Petersburg, by arguing that the Florida Civil Rights Act didn't cover pregnancy discrimination. At the time, the statute prohibited an employer from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their sex, but it didn't include pregnancy in its description ( Westrich v. Diocese of St. Petersburg, M.D. Fla., order granted 2006 ). The state legislature amended the statute in 2015 to expressly forbid pregnancy discrimination in employment and public accommodations.
Fewer cases go to trial now than when she started practicing law 30 years ago, Holtzman said, but there are “many more laws” and “a lot of enhanced regulatory action” and executive orders. “Being subject to all of that creates challenges,” especially for smaller employers and employers that operate in several states, she said. Human resources departments must be aware of all the requirements, she said. “The world of HR has become much more legalized,” she added.
To keep her clients abreast of recent changes, Holtzman is planning a “bagels and briefing” program at Jackson Lewis. She started this custom at her previous law firm, and “the invitees loved it,” she said. The sessions will begin at 7:30 in the morning with “bagels and networking” and end with an update on legal developments.
The biggest concerns facing her clients are joint-employer issues, discrimination claims, pregnancy rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is focusing on criminal background checks by prospective employers, and the National Labor Relations Board is scrutinizing employers' policies and handbooks, she said.
Holtzman grew up in Chicago and earned an M.A. in English education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She taught English but enrolled in law school at George Washington University when she moved to Washington because of her husband's job. While at GW, she founded and edited a publication, the Commercial Protection Reporting Service, and clerked at the NLRB.
She specialized in labor and employment law because it's a “very people-focused” area of practice. “Work life affects everybody. The issues are [both] personal and professional,” she said. “You can draw upon your personal perspectives and bring them to bear on a particular issue,” she added.
Holtzman said her practice has been “very broad-based.” It has covered Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the False Claims Act, noncompete agreements, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the NLRB. With myriad federal, state and county ordinances affecting the field, it's “very diverse,” she said.
Her strongest advice for young labor and employment lawyers is to join the ABA Labor and Employment Law Section, because it will help them “make lifelong friends, engage with attorneys from every constituent group and have access to incredible continuing legal education opportunities.” It also will give them opportunities “to network and be mentored,” she said, adding that she can't imagine her own career without that involvement.
Holtzman credits her family for her success, saying “they've been my support.” The law figures prominently in the family; her husband is a lawyer at Lewis Brisbois, and her son is a Harvard Law School student. Her daughter is a digital media manager rather than a lawyer, but she works at the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, which says it uses “the power of sports to advance race relations.” Holtzman said, “I'm very proud that she's chosen an organization for social progress.”
Holtzman keeps busy with a variety of nonlegal activities in her limited spare time. Recent vacations include hiking trips to Park City, Utah, and the Berkshires in Massachusetts. She also enjoys tennis, art classes and acrylic painting.
The former English major gets most enthusiastic, however, when discussing books. “I find a lot of pleasure in reading,” said Holtzman, who belongs to two book clubs. “Now that I can read on my phone, it's incredible.” Her favorite book is Middlemarch by George Eliot.
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