Attorney Spotlight: Get to Know Stephanie Gaston
When did you join the firm?
In which office are you located?
Tell us a little about your practice.
I am an employment lawyer who represents employers in all aspects of employment law, including litigation, arbitrations, injunctive relief, administrative proceedings, counseling and trainings throughout the United States. I regularly work with clients on complex employment matters such as wage and hour (FLSA and state law equivalents), discrimination and harassment (Title VII, Section 1981), retaliation, leaves of absence (ADA, FMLA), employee terminations, accommodations (ADA-- both Title I and Title III), affirmative action plans (AAP), pay equity, trade secrets, non-competition and non-solicitation covenants, whistleblowers and reorganizations/reductions in force (WARN Act). Additionally, I often conduct complex, sensitive and significant workplace investigations on behalf of clients. I am a frequent lecturer/presenter on numerous employment law topics, including FMLA, ADA, FLSA, harassment, diversity, conducting investigations and social media.
Why did you want to become an attorney?
I have always been identified by my peers as an advocate and a leader. I knew I wanted to have a career that allowed me to pursue the passion of advocacy for others and force me to hone leadership skills. Becoming an attorney was most attractive because it would allow me to make a career out of my interest and natural inclination to read, write, think, talk and argue. I get to help people and entities solve problems and vindicate themselves when they have been wronged –a job that is as equally challenging as it is satisfying.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is significant to me because it is a time when, not just the Black community, but our entire country celebrates (or is at minimum educated about) the important roles Blacks have played in the history of America, and when the visibility of Black culture is positively magnified. When I was in school, it was during February each year that I was introduced to heroic Black figures –whether inventors, entertainers, or military and taught about their valuable and worthy contributions to the creation of modern America. It was during Black History Month when I first learned about the Harlem Renaissance where writers like Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglass Johnson wrote about their experiences as Black Americans and when talented musicians like Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington created new genres of music. These positive images of Black culture reminded me of my own worth and reinforced the logic of equality to Black students and non-Black students alike. It created awareness for all students. I do not believe I would have been exposed to the number of heroic and historic Black figures as I was had it not been for Black History Month. Today, as an adult, Black History Month is still relevant for me, if not more so. It causes me and other Black Americans to reflect on our history, how much we have overcome, and the great sacrifice of our ancestors – I am so grateful many of them fought for freedoms they would never enjoy and progress they would never live to see. Black History Month fosters pride in and preserves our culture as the media highlights Black achievements and immerses us in Black culture through various mediums including TV, radio, and print. But most importantly for me, Black History Month fosters community and inclusion. Every year, during this month I am inspired – inspired to reflect on Black history and be a better steward of the privileges I have gained as a Black American.
When looking at diversity in the legal industry, where do you see the biggest obstacles? Where do you see room for more growth?
Obstacles: The legal profession remains one of the least diverse of any profession. That is a sad reality that accounts for gender diversity and racial and ethnic diversity. For example, according to the ABA’s National Lawyer Population Survey, 4 percent of active attorneys identified as Black or African American in 2007 and 4 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino. By 2017, those numbers rose only slightly to 5 percent each. I believe one of the obstacles is lack of diversity at the most senior level – that fact seems to contribute to lack of diversity throughout the profession. I also believe bias, expressed and unconscious, prevents Blacks from having access to mentors and advocates who are also the decision-makers when it comes to promotion, and assignment of work.
Room for Growth: I think all law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies could benefit from having people of diverse culture, experience and background at the senior-management level. Studies have shown and continue to show diversity is good for business. Yet diversity in law firm partnership and corporate leadership remains low – and only grows lower as the rung goes higher. This is definitely an area where there is plenty of room for growth.
What programs or organizations do you think do a good job of fostering growth for diverse individuals in the legal industry?
Legal Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) does an excellent job of fostering growth for diverse individuals in the legal industry. The organization is committed to empowering diverse individuals already in the legal industry with skills to be effective leaders through their Alumni, Fellows and Pathfinder Programs and simultaneously increasing the pipeline of diverse individuals though their Legal Scholars Program. The organization provides valuable networking opportunities, immersive learning experiences, and exposure to in-house counsel and managing partners at prestigious firms. They have earned the buy-in and partnership of many publicly traded and fortune 500 companies and the nation’s leading law firms because they can demonstrate their efforts are active, effective and have thus far been successful. I am very proud to be a part of an organization like Bradley, who recently joined LCLD and is committed to growing opportunities for diverse legal professionals.
Is there a leader, business owner, CEO, etc. from history who you admire who took a stand for including diverse individuals in the business community?
There are many – but one of the first that came to mind is John H. Johnson. Johnson is perhaps the most influential Black publisher in American history. He started his first publication, Negro Digest, in 1942 and three years later launched Ebony which became and remained the number one Black magazine in the world. He also published Jet magazine, a weekly publication that like Ebony, focused on Black news, culture and entertainment. He owned Fashion Fair cosmetics, the largest Black owned cosmetics company in the world that at a time was one of very few that produced products for women of color. He was highly involved in the business community and in politics at the local and national level. He was quoted once as saying, “I wasn’t trying to make history, I was trying to make money.” By all accounts, he managed to do both and drastically impacted the representation of Black people and Black culture in the media.
What is one of your favorite diverse- or minority-owned businesses in your local community?
The Breakfast Klub is a local favorite for me. It is Black owned by Marcus Davis and is one of the most phenomenal restaurant success stories in the country. They not only provide a relaxed atmosphere where you can eat good food, but management is heavily involved in giving back to the community and promoting Black culture.