MWELA bestows its Lawyer of the Year award annually to an employment lawyer whose work reflects the highest level of professionalism, commitment to employee rights, and unusual achievement.

We take great pride in each of the following recipients of our Lawyer of the Year award.

2024: Phil Zipin has focused on employment law for more than twenty years, representing many hundreds of clients in wrongful discharge, breach of contract, discrimination, and other employment-related matters. He has achieved particular success in wage & hour and overtime cases. In addition, he has counseled numerous small and start-up companies about their employment practices and assisted with their corporate needs. Phil received the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating for high ethical standards and professional excellence. He has been recognized by his peers in both the Washington, DC and Maryland Super Lawyer magazines. He is an active member of the National, Metropolitan Washington, and Maryland Employment Lawyers Associations.

2023: Karla Gilbride currently serves as co-director of Public Justice's Access to Justice Project. Her work focuses on making the civil court system available to people who have been locked out of power as a place to seek justice and accountability. She has argued cases involving mandatory arbitration provisions, class action procedure, and the availability of private causes of action before state and federal appellate courts throughout the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court. She was also part of the team that litigated some of the first cases challenging safety conditions for front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2022, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision against mandatory arbitration, overturning an unfair rule that stacked the deck against plaintiffs. Karla's representation of the plaintiff in Morgan v. Sundance brings real justice to workers. 

2022: Laura BrownLaura’s dedication to parents and caregivers in the greater Washington area is inspiring. Her vision and First Shift’s work have touched the lives of parents – and especially mothers – in low-wage jobs across the D.C. region who are both working and caring in extremely difficult times. See First Shift Justice Project's press release here.

2021: Joe Kaplan, founding member of Passman & Kaplan, P.C was recognized for his immense contributions to MWELA through his work to advance the rights of federal sector employees and his years of mentoring young lawyers who have grown into being superb advocates themselves and leaders in our community. The award was presented posthumously. 

2020: Mark Zaid and Andew Bakaj were recognized for their courageous and vigorous representation of the Intelligence Community whistleblower who made an inspector general complaint about President Trump’s now infamous call with the Ukrainian President in 2019. Despite unprecedented pushback from the Department of Justice and the President, Mr. Zaid and Mr. Bakaj protected the whistleblower and made certain that the complaint was properly investigated.

2019: Debra Katz and Lisa Banks were honored for their expertise and excellent lawyering in the #MeToo era. They most notably represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings as millions watched. They also represented a longtime Weinstein Company executive, who emerged as a central figure in the reporting about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of Weinstein Company employees. They also represented a former Congressional Aide to Representative Patrick Meehan who was subjected to unwanted romantic overtures and other sexual misconduct from the Congressman.

2018: Donald Temple was recognized for his jury victory in a DC Whistleblower Protection Act case, where he represented a contracting director who was fired after he protested the award of a lottery contract. The jury awarded $1.7 million and the District ultimately settled for $3.53 million. Donald also successfully obtained jury verdicts in race discrimination cases, and with co-counsel, was able to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in his client’s favor on a statute of limitations issue.

2017: Jennifer Klar, who was integral in the historic $24 million dollar settlement in a discrimination class action on behalf of African American Secret Service agents, was honored.

2016: Sharon Fast Gustafson was honored for her success in litigating the Young v. UPS case that set a precedent for proving pregnancy discrimination claims in the workplace.

2015: Valencia Rainey was honored for her work in successfully garnering the support of the District of Columbia Council, which unanimously passed legislation exempting the D.C. Human Rights Act from the requirements of D.C. Code Section 12-309. Section 12-309 requires that any claimant against the D.C. government give notice to the Mayor of claims for unliquidated damages within 6 months of the wrongful act. The legislation championed by Ms. Rainey, as MWELA Legislative Co-Chair, meant that the promise of the D.C. Human Rights Act would remain strong for all D.C. employees, whether or not that special notice had been given within 6 months.

2014: Carla Brown was honored for her success in representing her client, Jennifer Taylor, in Taylor v. Republic Services. The two-year case culminated in a verdict of $1.23 million in the Eastern District of Virginia. The case established precedent-setting principles in the law over an extraordinarily aggressive defense. Elaine Charlson Bredehoft assisted Brown in the Taylor v. Republic Services trial, and has achieved enormous success for her clients, including several multi-million dollar verdicts. Most of her impressive victories were won in Virginia, which many consider hostile territory for employment law.

2013: David R. Cashdan was honored for being staunch advocate for employee rights for four decades. After law school, he joined the newly-minted, four-person Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's General Counsel's Office. While there he filed numerous significant amicus briefs and solidified the EEOC's authority to proceed independently into federal court. Since then, he has continued to represent employees in individual and class action litigation, was a founding member of MWELA, and, on behalf of NELA, continues to develop and pursue legislation and public policy priorities with both the Congress and the EEOC.

2012: Joel P. Bennett was honored for the exceptional way he handled his client’s interests when her harassment case against the National Restaurant Association became a topic of contention during Herman Cain’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

2011: John Karl was honored for his outstanding appellate work in Pardo-Kronemann v. Donovan and Solomon v. Vilsack and for his contributions to the MWELA moot court and amicus programs.

2010: Cathy Harris was honored for her work in obtaining a $5 million settlement in a class action for African American employees at the VA Hospital in Richmond, VA who suffered pay and other discrimination because of their race.

2009: Linda Correia was honored for her extraordinary $3.4 million settlement of a Title IX retaliation case in Flood v. Florida Gulf Coast University.

2008: Larry Kaye was honored for his high six figure verdict in Hylind v. Xerox and his overall contributions to MWELA as a trial lawyer and trial practice teacher.

2007: Rick Seymour was honored for his extraordinary contributions to the employment bar, including his annual caselaw update, his willingness to share his encyclopedic knowledge of the caselaw, and his decades of dedication to civil rights law.

2006: Pat Smith was honored for her work in the area of employee benefits, disability law, and ERISA litigation. Her success includes a verdict exceeding $1 million against the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.

2005: Leizer Goldsmith was honored for his notable successes at trial and in defeating summary judgment motions.

2005: In addition to the Lawyer of the Year Award, MWELA made a special award to Bruce Fredrickson for his extraordinary lobbying work related to passage of the Civil Rights Tax Reform Act, which eliminated taxation of attorneys' fees in employment suits and settlements.

2004: Doug Huron was honored for his outstanding and fundamental contributions to the field of employment law, including his work on cases such as Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse, where the mixed-motive standard in Title VII cases was established and the standard for constructive discharge; Arthur Young v. Sutherland where he established that punitive damages were available under the D.C. Human Rights Act; and his work on the Hartman v. Powell class action, as well as his work on amicus briefs for MWELA and other organizations.

2003: Kerry O'Brien and Judith Conti were honored for their work in forming and operating the D.C. Employment Justice Center, which provides employment law assistance to people who are unable to afford legal services.

2002: Josh Bowers was honored for his work leading to the passage of the District of Columbia Civil Rights Tax Fairness Act, which eliminated taxation of awards and attorneys' fees in employment suits and settlements under DC law.

2001: Bruce Fredrickson and Susan Brackshaw were honored for their work in the Hartman v. Powell class action against the U.S. Information Agency for gender discrimination. Judge James Robertson approved a settlement of the case for $508 million dollars, the largest ever employment discrimination award in the history of the Civil Rights Act.

2000: Tom Gagliardo was honored for his service to MWELA through the creation of the MWELA list-serve and his efforts to pass a federal tax fairness law, as well as his work, skills, and dedication to his clients shown through his appellate work.

1999: Gary Brown was honored for his success in preserving, on appeal, the verdict in Breiner v. DAKA, Inc., an age discrimination case, that resulted in a $400,000 compensatory and punitive damages award to his client.

1998: Woodley Osborne was honored for his work as longtime chair of MWELA's Amicus Committee.

1997: The late Allen M. Lenchek, a long-time civil rights activist, was honored for his work on Robinson v. Shell Oil Company, in which he successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court that people should be permitted to sue their former employers for retaliatory post-employment conduct.

1996: Elaine Bredehoft and John Bredehoft were honored for their extraordinary string of success in jury verdicts before juries in the challenging Commonwealth of Virginia, many of which were in sexual harassment cases.

1995: Mary O'Melveny was honored for her long-term service to her clients, to the Communications Workers of America, and to the MWELA Board as newsletter writer and editor.

1994: Robert Bell was honored for his successful sexual discrimination suit against Howard University, which resulted in a $1.14 million judgment for a women’s basketball coach.