Long before she became an attorney, Wendy keenly understood the role the law plays in ensuring equal opportunity for all. The only woman in her class of 80, Wendy completed a four-year apprenticeship with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America with the hope of breaking down barriers to high-wage union jobs for women. In 1979, she was a founding member of Chicago Women Carpenters (CWC). As more women trickled into different trades, CWC evolved into Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), an advocacy group that supports the entry and retention of women in skilled trades. Ultimately, it was these experiences and her passion for advocacy that led her to pursue a public interest law career.
Following her graduation from Harvard Law in 1989, Wendy began her legal career with the organization now known as Legal Aid Chicago (then known as the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, or LAF). For three years, she was a general practitioner in the Englewood neighborhood office serving some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. Through this role, she began to see the damaging effects public benefits rules and workplace practices have in contributing to violence against women and girls and undermining employment opportunities for low-income people. As a result, Wendy joined LAF’s welfare team with a focus on welfare-to-work issues.
Along with her colleagues on the welfare team, in 1996 Wendy left LAF to join what is now known as the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. A few years later, Wendy established the Women’s Law & Policy Initiative, which she still leads today. In this role, Wendy has fought for the rights of women and girls through relentless advocacy, litigation, and a comprehensive set of victories on the policies, rights, and services on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. In addition, she has worked extensively on public benefits and work supports, workforce and economic development, education, employment, family law, violence against women and girls, gender equity in schools, and other issues, on the local, state, and federal level. Just in the past year, enactment of new laws that Wendy was instrumental in achieving include a phase-in to $15 for both the Illinois and Chicago minimum wage, an amendment to the Illinois Equal Pay Act that bars employers from asking job applicants their salary history, a state omnibus sexual harassment bill, and the Fair Workweek Ordinance. Her practice model is simple: the issues start with individual people and communities with whom she collaborates to solve these problems with an individual case or a systemic solution, or usually, for Wendy, both. The CBF is proud to recognize this talented legal aid leader as the 2020 Morsch Award recipient.