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“Because of Sex”: Federal Protections for LGBT People


Speaker(s): Julie Wilensky, Nonnie L. Shivers, Ria Tabacco Mar
Recorded on: Dec. 10, 2018
PLI Program #: 254716

Ria Tabacco Mar is a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. Her work includes fighting attempts to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people at school, at work, and in public places. Ria was part of the ACLU’s litigation team in Miller v. Davis, the challenge to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case of the same-sex couple refused a wedding cake because they are gay.

Ria has been recognized on The Root 100 annual list of the most influential African Americans ages 25 to 45 and as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association.

Prior to joining the ACLU, Ria served as Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, where she participated regularly as amicus curiae on cases involving marriage equality and was a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Ria served as a law clerk to Judge Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and to Judge Julia Smith Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She also worked as a litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.  Ria graduated from New York University School of Law and Harvard College.


Julie Wilensky is a senior staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), where she litigates antidiscrimination cases.

Before joining NCLR, Julie was a Deputy County Counsel for the County of Santa Clara, where she was a member of the Social Justice & Impact Litigation section. Previously, Julie was a shareholder at an employment and civil rights law firm in Oakland, where she litigated employment discrimination, disability rights, and employee benefits class actions. She also represented same-sex spouses and transgender people in cases involving pension and health benefits. Julie served as a law clerk to Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and to Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Julie graduated from Yale Law School and Yale College.

In 2018, Julie received a California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award. She was named by the Daily Journal as one of California’s Top 40 Lawyers Under 40 (2016) and Top Women Lawyers (2016), and she was named by the National LGBT Bar Association as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40 (2015).


Nonnie partners with employers and managers in three primary ways: litigation avoidance through proactive counseling and training; investigations and resolutions when pre-litigation concerns arise; and litigating legally complex and factually challenging cases to defend employer’s actions.

Nonnie advises and counsels private and public employers in all aspects of employment law, including an emphasis on complex but proactive compliance projects, such as 50-state compliant wage deductions and lawful parental leave programs. Nonnie regularly partners with clients to plan and implement reductions in force, severance plans and agreements, and pre-litigation disciplinary matters. Nonnie regularly conducts high-level internal investigations for clients, including at the executive level and within key departments, and assists in identifying and resolving potential areas of liability and exposure in a proactive but practical way. Nonnie’s unique practice also includes providing employment advice for employers doing business within the Navajo Nation's territorial jurisdiction and other tribal lands, including cultural and employment law training on unique tribal code requirements.

Nonnie has successfully defended employers against allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination in state and federal court, as well as administrative forums. Nonnie has handled hundreds of charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Arizona Civil Rights Division, as well as claims and appeals filed with the Industrial Commission of Arizona. Nonnie has also litigated whistleblower claims against air carriers under AIR 21 and handled investigations and enforcement actions with numerous other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor and other employers under SOX.

Nonnie regularly speaks and trains on current and emerging employment law topics, including recent presentations to industry and trade groups on civility in the #MeToo era, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workplace issues, avoidance of retaliation claims, and political expression in the workplace. Nonnie’s advanced degree in education and years of experience as an instructor and student affairs professional at Arizona State University help make her training sessions and presentations simultaneously educational and entertaining. Nonnie has also published several scholarly articles focused on employment law, including a book chapter on the impact of reasonable workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities on employers and employees’ expectations of privacy for off-duty conduct.

Nonnie has received numerous accolades from clients and legal professionals for her dedicated client focus and problem-solving abilities. Southwest Super Lawyers named Nonnie a Rising Star in 2012-2014 and a Super Lawyer in 2016. Nonnie also obtained the recognition of the legal community by receiving an AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbell beginning in 2014 through today. Chambers USA first ranked Nonnie as a Leading Individual in 2015 and Best Lawyers added Nonnie to its list of recognized practitioners in 2016. Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Shivers served as a law clerk to the Honorable Patricia K. Norris on the Arizona Court of Appeals.