When asked about his work helping low-wage workers, including undocumented immigrants, receive proper payment for the work they do in this country, Alexander Hood ’02 is unequivocal. “People should be paid for their work,” he says.
The Denver-based nonprofit legal organization Towards Justice, which Hood co-founded with friend Andrew Schmidt, provides legal services to victims of wage theft. Most of their cases are class-action lawsuits involving employers who fail to pay their employees correctly, or at all, including shaving hours off of time cards, failing to pay overtime, or taking illegal deductions from pay. “We recently settled a case against a grocery store with about 40 salaried employees,” Hood says. “They had to work well over 40 hours a week, and the effect was that everyone was getting paid well less than minimum wage and receiving no overtime pay.”
Hood majored in history and economics at Williams, and he spent a few years teaching those subjects and coaching skiing at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont after graduation. “I love ski racing and teaching—in fact, I considered being a public school teacher for a time but then decided on law school.” He went to Boston College Law School and spent a summer interning at a firm in Colorado. The firm offered him a position when he graduated, but the starting date was delayed a year.
“I had a year to do anything I wanted,” Hood says. “A friend asked if I wanted to join him in starting Towards Justice, and I jumped at the chance.” Working from their basements, the pair of lawyers started helping Spanish-speaking, often undocumented, residents of Denver with any legal issues they faced. “It didn’t take long to see that wage theft was rampant in our client population, and we soon shifted our focus to that exclusively.” When the firm called to see if Hood was ready to start his job, he turned it down.
By 2014, Towards Justice had moved into office space in downtown Denver, hired an executive director and a paralegal, and now has a staff of five attorneys. “The problem is so large in scope that we’ve decided to focus our energies on impact litigation: cases that test cutting edge legal theories or pursue particular social policies,” Hood says.
One of the reasons they can focus on the big picture is because of the success they had in helping pass legislation in Colorado that gives workers more agency. “This new law allows people to file a complaint directly with the Colorado Department of Labor for wage claims under $7,500,” Hood says. “The Colorado DOL pursues the claim on their behalf.” That gives Towards Justice the time they need to pursue class-action lawsuits, the biggest of which represents approximately 50,000 workers across the United States.
Regarding the political disagreement some folks may have with Hood’s work, he says, “we can have disagreements about immigration status and labor rights in general, but no one can argue with a straight face that a worker shouldn’t be paid for his work.”
To learn more about Towards Justice, visit this link.