Lawyers Fight Wage Theft

Over a recent three-year grant from The Community Foundation, New Haven Legal Assistance Association expanded its efforts to combat wage theft and other workplace abuses.

The home page of New Haven Legal Assistance Association (LAA) states in bold letters:

"It is illegal for someone to be treated differently because of their immigration status, national origin, or religion."

Despite the law, attorneys at LAA see employers repeatedly fail to pay immigrant workers what they are rightfully owed, otherwise known as wage theft. Over a recent three-year grant from The Community Foundation, LAA expanded its efforts to combat this rampant problem along with other workplace abuses and fight for policy changes to help all low-wage workers.

In one recent case, LAA represented a group of workers at a restaurant who were earning as little as $3.14 an hour. Some of the workers also claimed they were on the job for as many as 72 hours some weeks without being paid overtime. LAA settled the case with the employer for $65,000. In another case, the legal team represented clients who were fired after refusing to work a 36-hour shift.

During the grant term, LAA provided legal services to 117 immigrant workers and represented a total of 274 clients.

Beyond individual representation, LAA pursues systemic changes through policy and advocacy work. Staff Attorney James Bhandary-Alexander serves as co-chair of the Low Wage Employer Advisory Board, and the advisory board of the Connecticut Department of Labor. New Haven Legal Assistance has also sought passage of a bill to push the minimum wage up to $15 per hour by 2021.

New Haven Legal Assistance also expanded its work to a wider range of immigration law and collaborated with the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, Unidad Latina en Accion, and Junta for Progressive Action. In a partnership with the Yale Law School, two LAA attorneys supervised Yale law students through the New Haven Legal Assistance Immigrant Rights Clinic, which annually represents 30-40 undocumented immigrants in defensive removal proceedings.

Founded in 1964, New Haven Legal Assistance Association is one of the oldest legal aid offices in the nation. It provides free legal services to clients who have incomes at 125% of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four is just over $32,000 per year. Free legal aid is also provided to clients with other barriers such as a disability, age, or discrimination. LAA's legal services include workplace abuse, housing and evictions, family law, health benefit denials, disability rights, and other civil cases.

The Community Foundation is a longtime supporter of LAA and recently awarded the organization grants in support of The Foundation's immigration and prisoner reentry strategies.

The Foundation is also home to The Fund for the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, which was established in 1989 by members of the law firm of Tyler Cooper & Alcorn in honor of James W. Cooper, who worked for the establishment and advancement of the Legal Assistance Association and former volunteer secretary of The Community Foundation.

To learn more about New Haven Legal Assistance, visit its profile on

Did you know?

A 2008 survey found that more than 70% of the low-income households in Connecticut had experienced a legal problem during the previous year, yet only 1 in 4 successfully obtained outside help because demand far exceeded the availability of services.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.