Speaking up for Women

Largo Lawyer Efforts Help Bring Changes

By: Dionne Irving, The Gazette, 5/16/02

When Jeanne Hartig lost her job at the University of Maryland for allegedly being too direct, she searched for an attorney to fight her dismissal.

Hartig's search began and ended with attorney Linda Thatcher.

"Linda Thatcher was the first person I talked to, and I chose not to go anywhere else for what was for me a troubling case," Hartig said.

Thatcher is known as a sort of legal gladiator when it comes to representing women in discrimination cases against companies and institutions.

Thatcher's Largo-based law practice has earned a reputation for taking on women clients who seek to file employment-related lawsuits ranging from wrongful discharge to sexual harassment.

"As a kid I was always defending my girlfriends on the playground when they would get pushed. And that's the same thing I do now, but on a different playing field," said Thatcher, a Mitchellville resident.

Some legal observers consider Thatcher a change-agent in employment law in Maryland.

"I think she has taken on causes that are not the most popular and brought about change," said Cynthia Thomas, the former editor of "Raising The Bar," the magazine for Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia. "She has brought changes that would not have come about otherwise."

Hartig relied on Thatcher to challenge her firing from her position as director of marketing for the University of Maryland Center for the Performing Arts. Hartig had only worked under her new boss for 90 days before being fired for being too direct when dealing with co-workers.

"Hartig is an example of what every woman should be like," Thatcher said this week. "She did a very good job and dealt with staff and co-workers just as men do. And she stood up and said, 'You can't treat me like this when men are treated better.'"

Hartig's case went to trial last September, and she was awarded $250,000 in damages, Thatcher said. The University of Maryland has filed an appeal of the judgment.

Thatcher noted that some employment lawsuits never make it to trial.

"In cases where people are wrongfully discharged, a lot can be done by talking to the company president or writing a letter. I know when I go to bed at night that company will not do that again," Thatcher said.

While Thatcher also defends men, she said it's important that she represent the rights of women in the workplace.

"When a female client needs me, they know I will turn over every stone to get the truth," Thatcher said.

Thatcher first gained statewide notoriety in 1994 by filing suit against the Woodmore Country Club in Mitchellville, where she was a member. Representing 14 women, Thatcher won full membership rights for women and access to the same tee times as men.

Thatcher began her own firm after working for a major law firm.

"I was with the third largest firm in the country and I made good money," said Thatcher, who serves as local counsel for the Prince Georges County chapter of the NAACP. "[But] I wanted to decide what cases to handle, and take cases that I had a passion for. You can't just turn it off at 5:30. I think about my clients all the time."

Thatcher started her firm in 1996 with one other lawyer and a secretary. She now has two full-time lawyers, one part-time lawyer, a legal intern and an office manager.

Thatcher said she considers herself a feminist.

"My definition of a feminist is a woman who can think for herself and rely on her own intellect to accomplish success in life," Thatcher said. "I can make a difference in a person's life, and not just in the courtroom."