As a plaintiffs lawyer, Shannon Liss-Riordan has taken on Starbucks, Harvard University, American Airlines and most prominently, Uber. She is derided by corporations and lauded by workers for her employment practice. And she is hoping that her reputation as a fighter can translate into a Democratic primary upset in Massachusetts, where she’s running to unseat Ed Markey in 2020.
Liss-Riordan, a partner in the Boston firm Lichten & Liss-Riordan, announced her entry into the senate race Monday, complete with local media interviews, campaign site and email blast to supporters.
She told ALM she will be stepping away from day-to-day activity at her 10-attorney firm to focus on the campaign. The firm itself will stay busy, she said, with ongoing matters against a roster of gig-economy companies that includes Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Postmakes and Doordash, as well as newer cases such as an age discrimination suit against IBM.
Liss-Riordan said she believes many of the issues that the country is tackling right now, from growing income inequality to health care access to opioid addiction, can be traced back to workers not receiving fair pay.
“If this continues, employment as we know it will cease to exist,” she said.
“I’m in this race in order to offer voters in Massachusetts a choice,” Liss-Riordan told WBUR’s Kimberly Atkins on Monday. “I have been a tireless worker and a tireless advocate for the rights of working people, and I see the issues that are happening in the workplace are only fueling income inequality—which is growing to maddening levels.”
Most of her legal career has been spent representing lower-paid workers such as service staff, baristas, delivery drivers and even strippers against large corporations and business entities. She more recently has been the go-to lawyer for gig-workers looking to challenge their companies regarding their employment classification.
Her litigation campaign against Uber resulted in a rise in national name recognition, as well as a $20 million settlement for drivers in California and Massachusetts. She declined to comment on separate settlements Uber announced one day before its May 9 IPO, in which the company said it expects to pay $146 to $170 million to resolve claims by thousands of additional drivers who signed arbitration agreements with the company.
Liss-Riodan said in an email to her supporters that her practice over the past 20 years has showed her how flawed the status quo is and how the wealthy have gamed the system. “They have been writing the rules for too long—we need to make a change,” she said in the email.
She is running on the outsider platform, as she has never run for or held public office. But she has previously been active in politics. She said watching the Anita Hill hearings in 1992 were an inspiration for her to get involved in political and social engagement. She helped found an organization called The Third Wave whose goal was to motivate young women and minorities to get involved in the political process. Twenty-seven years later, after being taken aback by the outcome of the Kavanaugh hearings last year, she has come full circle in her political activities, now as a candidate.
Markey has spent close to 43 years representing Massachusetts in the House and Senate, and whether he is ripe for a primary upset is up for debate. In reliably left-leaning Massachusetts, the primary could very well be the election, so odds are that the Markey campaign will take the challenge seriously.
Longtime congressman Michael Capuano was defeated by the outsider campaign of Ayanna Pressley last year in Massachusetts, and according to the Boston Globe some political operatives believe that sort of upset could happen again. But it won’t be easy. Markey has been actively fundraising and has about $3.5 million in his campaign war chest, according to federal filings.