The Washington Lawyers’ Committee Remembers Warren Kaplan

Warren Kaplan, a dear friend of the Committee and champion of civil rights, passed away on Sunday, August 13, at the age of 82. Warren served as the Committee’s first Senior Counsel. In this role he vindicated the rights of thousands of clients, mentored our young lawyers, and set an unparalleled standard for exceptional advocacy. We are better to have known and worked with him, and will miss him greatly.

Rod Boggs, our former Executive Director, shared some reflections about Warren at his memorial service this weekend. Below are his remarks.

One day in the fall of 1993, I received a call from a lawyer named Warren Kaplan, who told me his law firm had recently disbanded and he might be interested in volunteering at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.

Warren Kaplans Retirement Dinner Photos 6.19.08 025

What followed from that conversation was a 24-year friendship and collaboration…Offering Warren a position on the Committee’s staff was one of the wisest decisions I ever made as Executive Director. Not only did the Committee gain a 

truly outstanding lawyer, but other staff members and I gained a wonderful friend and colleague.

In preparing these remarks, I spoke with a number of lawyers who worked with Warren on cases over the years. Before giving you a short highlight tour of some 

of his most notable cases, I’d like to tell you the recurring comments I heard about Warren: fearless, indefatigable, empathetic, morally committed, gifted oral advocate, and, just to be totally honest, occasionally stubborn.

For those who got to know him well, beyond the qualities that distinguished him as a lawyer, we came to appreciate Warren as one of the most personally generous and caring individuals that we could imagine – the kind of person you are always delighted to see and who you would always feel comfortable going to in times of difficulty.

Although Warren played a significant role in dozens of Committee matters, here are several in particular that I hope give you an idea of what he accomplished in his “second career.”

Soon after joining our staff in 1993, Warren immersed himself in reviewing complaints we had received from several women employees at the D.C. Department of Corrections. Warren’s exhaustive investigative efforts including interviews with dozens of potential clients, revealed a broad pattern of sexual harassment, as part of which female employees were routinely expected to grant sexual favors to their supervisors, with favored treatment going to those who did so and retaliatory assignments and poor performance evaluations going to those who refused or filed complaints.

[T]he Committee filed a class action lawsuit in January of 1994 challenging these practices. It was, I believe, the first class action challenging sexual harassment of female employees at a government agency…Following a six-week trial, a jury found that the defendant had engaged in a pattern and practice of widespread sexual harassment and retaliation and awarded $1.4 million to six class representatives…Following an appeal, a settlement was reached in this case, providing over $9 million in damages and fees to 175 women, and highly significant injunctive relief.

It is difficult to imagine how this case could have been pursued to such a successful conclusion without Warren’s tenacity, trial advocacy skill, and extraordinary ability to relate to our clients. Quite a way to begin a new career.

kaplan editedThe second set of cases I’d like to mention, filed in 1998, involved two separate suits against Amtrak. The first of these challenged racial bias affecting 5,000 African-American blue-collar workers. The second case addressed racial discrimination directed at several thousand Amtrak- headquarters employees and job applicants.

Once again, Warren’s exceptional ability to relate to clients and his diligence in pursuing witnesses was critical to the litigation of these cases.

The Amtrak management case was settled in 1999 for $8 million in back pay, compensatory damages, fees, and broad injunctive relief. The blue-collar case, settled in February of 2000, provided monetary relief of $16 million and mandated strong affirmative remedies, including the restructuring of Amtrak’s [equal employment opportunity] practices.

[O]nce again Warren carried major responsibilities in all aspects of the litigation. These Amtrak cases, taken together, constituted one of the Committee’s most important litigation successes.

The final case illustrating Warren’s special qualities as a civil-rights advocate that I’d like to mention involved his representation of Richard McCoy. Mr. McCoy was an African-American pressmen at a local printing company, who had been subjected to a particularly oppressive and hostile work environment over a period of five years.

Warren tried Mr. McCoy’s case before a federal court jury in April of 2001…The two-week trial, which included testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, drew a stark picture of racial hostility, including the prevalence of racial epithets. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury…awarded Mr. McCoy $2.4 million, of which $1.6 million was in the form of punitive damages.

These cases represent only a small sample of the dozens of matters Warren pursued during his “second career” at the WLC. They do, however, illustrate the qualities of moral fervor, advocacy skill, and a unique ability to communicate with a wide diversity of clients, witnesses, and juries, which helped to make him such an effective lawyer.

As noted by other speakers today, many of these fine qualities were evident in all aspects of Warren’s life. They are no doubt among the reasons that I think all of us were so drawn to him as a friend. Now that he is gone, I imagine all of us will treasure even more the time we were privileged to spend with him and be inspired by the life he lived. I certainly will.

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The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. In consideration of this, we are providing a link for online donations here. You can also send contributions to the Committee directly at:

Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
11 Dupont Circle, NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

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