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Joseph Sellers built a reputation as a champion for the underdog during his 16 years at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, litigating more than 100 cases for the public interest law firm. Today he’s a class action employment litigator at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, taking on giants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Boeing Co., and the BellSouth Corp. Sellers, 50, a self-described idealist, says his political and social conscience drew him to employment law. “It made me feel like I was using law for the reasons I went to law school,” Sellers says. A 1979 graduate of Case Western Reserve School of Law, Sellers started at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee in 1982, and headed its Equal Employment Project, where he represented thousands in employment class actions against government entities, including the highly secretive FBI and CIA. In 1993, Sellers, along with lawyers from what was then Piper Marbury, represented seven women and one man who sued the D.C. Department of Corrections, claiming “emotionally debilitating” forms of sexual harassment. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the $1.4 million judgment in August 1996 and sent it back to the U.S. District Court, the original plaintiffs and an expanded class of 350 settled for $8.5 million. But Sellers is most proud of the changes the suit made at the department. “The payment of money is a poor substitute for relief,” he says. “We try to develop new methods with which to advance the interests of the parties.” Sellers worked on the Clinton-Gore transition team in 1992, helping the new administration review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In 1997, he decided to try private practice and joined Cohen, Milstein. Sellers has parlayed his long civil rights experience into handling class actions against some of the country’s biggest corporations. In 2001, he filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of a potential class of 1.6 million women, Dukes, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. If the court certifies the class — a decision is expected soon — it would be the largest discrimination class action ever. Sellers is now awaiting the trials of two discrimination class actions against Boeing: Beck, et al. v. The Boeing Co., on behalf of 25,000 female employees, and Nouri, et al. v. The Boeing Co., on behalf of 2,000 Asian-American employees. In fact, both cases are scheduled to go to trial on May 17 in the same court, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle. Sellers is also taking on BellSouth in a race discrimination suit in Birmingham, Ala. He’s in discovery on class certification of a potential class of 20,000 African-American employees. And Sellers has already racked up victories at Cohen, Milstein, including a 2002 $10 million settlement in a wage-and-hour class action against Perdue Farms Inc., and a $14 million settlement in a race discrimination case against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2000. “I think Joe is doing the work he’s doing . . . because he firmly and profoundly believes in the work and in the goals that the work will hopefully achieve in society,” says Thomas Henderson, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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