Legal Momentum is deeply saddened by the sudden and most untimely passing of its former legal director Alison Wetherfield in London on July 31st. Alison was a Cambridge-educated lawyer who first came to the U.S. to take an LLM at Harvard Law School. She joined Legal Momentum (at that time NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund) in 1985 as a staff attorney, becoming legal director in 1990.
While with Legal Momentum Alison was an indispensable member and then leader of our legal department. She litigated cases on a wide variety of issues related to reproductive rights and sexual harassment, such as the right of terminally ill pregnant women to make reproductive decisions, ending blockades at reproductive health clinics, and stopping employers from barring women from certain jobs based on the potential risk should they become pregnant.
Alison was co-counsel on Legal Momentum's groundbreaking sexual harassment case Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards. This case established that pornography in the workplace creates a hostile work environment and thus violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which bars sex discrimination in employment. In that hard fought case, the plaintiff successfully challenged offensive discovery into her sexual and intimate lives as a precondition to her vindicating her rights to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. The Robinson case was brought on behalf of Lois Robinson, a welder at the shipyards, and was a significant advancement in Legal Momentum’s advocacy for women in non-traditional employment, which continues to this day.
In this article from the Chicago Tribune, Alison is quoted about her work on the Robinson case, and the need to fight discrimination from the apprenticeship level up.
In this article from the New York Times, she discusses the legal meaning of sexual harassment.
Legal Momentum’s brief in the Robinson case may be read here.
The decision of the federal district court can be found here.
Subsequent to leaving Legal Momentum in 1992, Alison taught law in Tokyo and then returned to London where she became the highly regarded head of the Employment Group at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. She was also chair of Trustees for the nonprofit known as Freedom from Torture, The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
Lynn Hecht Schafran, Legal Momentum senior vice president and director, National Judicial Education Program, worked with Alison. Lynn said of her, “The word ‘brilliant’ is often overused, but in Alison’s case, she truly was a brilliant lawyer, in addition to her wonderful, brave, and adventurous spirit. She will be deeply missed by all of us.”
Legal Momentum’s sympathies go out to Alison’s husband, Dan Schlesinger, their sons Noah and Ben, other members of her family, and her many friends.
The obituary for Alison in the Times of London stated that she was "a pathbreaking lawyer and versatile solver of problems, who combined a prodigious intellect and zest for life with a disarming squeeze of irreverence." The obituary also quotes her law partner Katie Clark: "When she was on your side, you felt you had a force of nature with you. Nothing could go wrong."