On my Own
An Anti-discrimination and Social Justice Education Outreach Project
We cannot and do not give legal advice.
A Heartfelt Message from the Executive Director
Every year, millions of people seek justice after being discriminated against based on race, color, age, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability or genetic information. They don’t know how to proceed after being denied a job or losing their job because of discrimination, and they struggle to navigate the legal system because of lack of knowledge and/or financial resources.
While there is a court constitutional guarantee for legal representation in criminal matters, there is no such right in civil cases. Those who have been discriminated against, either move on with their lives without seeking remedies because they don’t know how to go about it, or they must resolve their legal issues alone by proceeding pro se. However, most pro se litigants lose their cases on procedural grounds because they don’t know what to do or they give up during legal proceedings because the process is far too daunting or the defendants in the lawsuit blacklist them to prevent them from earning the money necessary to fund their litigation.
In a March 7, 2016 article entitled Pro se-Oh Boy published by Fisher Phillips, a national labor and employment firm, the author wrote that pro se plaintiffs in employment cases who file lawsuits against their employer or former employer, believe they have viable claims under federal, state and/or local anti-discrimination statutes. However, although some of their claims are valid, many of them have very little understanding of the nuances associated with filing a discrimination lawsuit and proceeding through the court system. Therefore, the end result is a painful loss.
There have been exceptions though. A person who puts the time and energy into research, understanding applicable laws and learning the proper court procedures, can successfully manage their own case—and WIN! That precisely is what happened to me. After my former director, Amanda Rivera and employer, the Chicago Board of Education discriminated against me by laying me off and giving my job to a less-qualified white woman a few days later, I filed a federal lawsuit against both in the Northern District of Illinois Court in December 2009.
However, despite my avalanche of evidence which solidly supported my claims of race discrimination, the judge assigned to my case, Edmond Chang, ruled against me on summary judgement in 2012 and motion to reconsider in 2013. Prior to his ruling, however, I was subjected to every type of abuse imaginable and unimaginable by the Chicago Board of Education’s attorneys. Moreover, although the school district presented no credible evidence against me, Judge Chang continued my case 20 times during a 32-month period.
Abandoned twice by my attorneys during critical stages of my lawsuit, one of which was two days before my opening appellant’s brief was due, with very little money and without legal training and resources, I proceeded pro se and appealed Judge Chang’s ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2013. Without the assistance of attorneys or anyone else, I wrote my own appellant’s briefs and engaged in an oral argument against the Chicago Board of Education attorneys, which pro se litigants rarely are afforded an opportunity to do.
Exactly three weeks after my oral argument, the three-judge appellate panel, which included legendary Judge Richard Posner, ruled unanimously in my favor and the Chicago Board of Education and I reached a monetary settlement agreement shortly thereafter. But the damage already had been done. The Chicago Board of Education had destroyed my career—which had taken me more than two decades of attending school at night and earning three college degrees to build—by retaliating against me and ensuring that I would not get another job. The two temporary gigs I managed to get in 2012 and 2014—the Chicago Board of Education discovered and immediately had me fired from both. Consequently, I developed medical issues due to the years of stress I endured trying to survive years of litigation, harassment and the seizure of my livelihood for no reason other than discrimination.
I pledged at the close of my litigation that “As long as I breathe, I will do all that I can to prevent what happened to me from happening to others.” Through the founding of On My Own Project, and delivery of the many services we provide to victims of employment and housing discrimination at no charge, I am beyond thrilled that I have turned my pain into purpose by making my dream to eradicate discrimination become a reality. That has given me the peace which has eluded me since this nightmare began.
This website contains educational information regarding legal issues, and is not a substitute for or constitutes legal advice from an attorney licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction. The information contained from On My Own Project via telephone, the Internet and/or email via this website or through any other method of communication has been prepared by On My Own Project. While we have attempted to convey information on this website as accurately as possible, it might contain errors or omissions for which we disclaim liability, as On My Own Project acquired said information from other sources and will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of said information.