Dean’s Leadership Forum on Diversity Examines Diversity in the Workplace
Web Editor - Published: March 26, 2010
On Monday, March 22nd, Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus played host to the 4th Annual Dean’s Leadership Forum on Diversity. This year’s event, entitled “Diversity: An Idea Becomes an Ideal in Central Pennsylvania and Beyond,” featured four panel discussions that touched on how diversity has become an indispensable practice.

Professor Michael J. Cozzillio, co-chair of the Harrisburg faculty’s Diversity Committee, provided opening remarks, saying of Widener Law Dean Linda L. Ammons, “She has never wavered in her commitment to this diversity initiative.” Dean Ammons followed Professor Cozzillio with a introductory remarks of her own, saying of the day’s panelists, “We are thrilled both that they have dedicated themselves in their own lives to this cause, and also that they have agreed to share their experiences with us.”

Assistant Professor Tonya M. Evans, the other co-chair of the Harrisburg faculty’s Diversity Committee, introduced the day’s first panel, “Diversity and Compliance: Comparing and Contrasting Federal and Central Pennsylvania Statutes, Regulations, and Judicial Responses.” Widener Law Associate Professor Katharine F. Nelson provided an overview of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Following Professor Nelson’s remarks, Sharon R. Lopez, Esq. ’93, who founded Triquetra Law, a Lancaster, PA firm specializing in civil rights litigation, and employment law and policy, spoke about her experiences working the field. “This is an area of the law that has very few attorneys on the employee side because it is very difficult,” she said. She described a couple cases that she had worked on, including the case of a young, mixed-race man who was discriminated against at a garbage collection company and the case of a black, part-time teacher who was fired for race related reasons at a school in North Central, PA. Describing what made representing these sorts of clients so difficult, she noted, “You have to deal with the trauma of potential job loss.”

The second panel, “Diversity and the Legal Profession: The Numbers Unfortunately Do Not Lie,” featured Dean Veryl V. Miles of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America, Keystone Bar Association President Pamela Cross, Esq., and Richard C. Simpson, Esq., a Partner at Bricker, & Eckler LLP in Columbus, Ohio, who becomes the Dean of Capital University Law School on June 1st. Miles spoke first, discussing diversity recruitment efforts at her law school. She noted in particular the struggle to attract Hispanic and African American students. Pamela Cross followed, speaking about efforts and initiatives by the Keystone Bar Association to keep local minority law students in the area after they graduate. Finally, Simpson spoke about how law firms could attract and retain strong minority candidates.

After lunch, the third panel, “Diversity and Productivity, A Diverse Workforce as a Win-Win Proposition,” focused on the positive effects of a diverse workplace. Thomas L. Sager, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company and a member of Widener Law’s Board of Overseers, spoke about the value of diversity for DuPont and the principle of “empowering individuals.” He also praised Dean Ammons and her efforts, declaring, “I believe in Widener and I believe in this Dean.” Dr. Harjit Singh, M.D., the Associate Dean for Diversity at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, spoke about diversity efforts at the medical center. He noted that the pool of African American and Hispanic candidates is remaining static while the number of students accepted into medical school is increasing, dropping the percentage of students from those ethnic groups. The third panelist, Mr. Trent Hargrove, Esq., the Chief Diversity Officer of Pennsylvania spoke about effective workforce diversity and productivity.

The day’s final panel entitled “Diversity and Affirmative Action: An Examination of Options in the Wake of Ricci v. DeStefano,” featured Mark A Fontana, Esq., a Partner at Eckert Seamans, and Carl Shuman, Esq., Senior Counsel for Highmark Inc., discuss the now infamous case in which firefighters sued the city of New Haven, Connecticut for refusing to certify a promotion test after it was found that African Americans did not score well on the test.

Each of the day’s panels raised important questions and offered insight into how elusive true diversity remains. Pointed and well-reasoned questions from the audience served to elevate the reach discussions as well.

Widener Law thanks Dilworth Paxson, Eckert Seamans, and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. for their sponsorship of this event.