A team composed of Professor Scott Moss, Colorado Law students, and one recent graduate won a high-profile appellate case defending a former state patrol captain who was denied re-employment after the agency learned he was gay. On December 31, 2015, the state Court of Appeals upheld a decision that the Colorado State Patrol intentionally discriminated against the officer when the agency denied him re-employment.
Moss took on the appellate case after following it in the lower courts in 2012. Boulder attorney Keith Shandalow, who successfully represented the defendant at the trial level, received the 2014 Case of the Year Award from the Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association.
“Colorado Law has more students interested in public interest law than a lot of law schools, and this is a real-world opportunity for students that you wouldn’t get everywhere,” Moss said. “When I have cases like this, I’ll invite students who are interested in the topic to work on it with me or just attend.”
Recent graduate Mary Donachy (’13) co-litigated the case with Moss, and members of the GLBT student group OUTLaw and the Society for Work Employment and Labor Law (SWELL) assisted with research. Six students from OUTLaw conducted a moot court leading up to the trial, and several students, including some from Moss’s employment law class, attended the oral argument.
Ann Stanton (‘16), president of OUTLaw, participated in the moot court. She and and Kristina Rosett (‘16), president of SWELL, attended the oral argument and helped Moss strategize post-argument issues.
“I enjoyed the opportunity not just to assist with oral argument preparation, but also to see how some of the work put into preparing for the case during the moot court was then implemented in the actual oral argument,” said Stanton, who plans to practice civil litigation after graduation. “Professor Moss had to prepare to argue several different complex issues in this case, but ultimately, both the opposing counsel's argument and the court's questions focused overwhelmingly on only one issue. Because I participated in some of the preparation before attending the argument, I had a much better appreciation for the level of skill it requires to think on your feet and immediately shift the entire focus of an argument to address the aspects of the case that the court finds most contentious and compelling.”
“Colorado is one of only a limited number of states that has statutes prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," said Rosett, who plans to practice plaintiff-side employment law or civil rights law when she graduates. "This case shows the invaluable role that attorneys have in ensuring that these protections have meaning, whether that means arguing for a favorable interpretation of the provisions in these laws or guiding a client all the way through the appeals process.”
Donachy, a sole practitioner who focuses on plaintiff employment law and civil rights, likens working on pro bono cases to extended law school training. “In my small practice, there are some cases I don’t have the opportunity to take on. Through these pro bono cases I get to take on cases and develop relationships that I might not have the opportunity to do on my own,” she said.
To prepare for the case, Donachy said she and Moss familiarized themselves with hundreds of pages of memos from the original case. “When you litigate a case from day one, you develop intimate familiarity with facts of the case. When you jump in at the end, it’s a long process to distill an entire case down into a 20-minute appellate argument. For me, the learning experience was seeing that process in distilling an entire case into a concise appellate argument,” she said.
Donachy has worked with Moss on several pro bono cases, and she recalls taking as many of Moss’ classes in law school as her schedule allowed.
“Scott has been a great resource for me. He knew I was really interested in employment law and also that I didn’t want to jump into a full-time law firm job right after law school, so he drew me in to this and other pro bono cases. I think he’s an incredible resource for many students and goes above and beyond what a lot of law professors do to help students make professional connections and gain experience before graduating, and even after graduating,” she said.
“Employment law is where the rubber hits the road with a lot of civil rights law. That’s where we see civil rights law being formed. It’s an incredibly important area for everyone to care about,” Donachy added.
“In 1998, I was exactly like a lot of our public service law students, and employment and civil rights law have been my main fields of interest ever since," Moss said. "I have represented workers in similar cases before becoming a law professor, and I still take on cases like this when I can. I went to law school to do exactly this kind of thing.”
Pictured (L-R): Ann Stanton ('16), Kristina Rosett ('16), and Professor Scott Moss