L. Leigh R. Strelka
Strelka Employment Law
BA, University of Tennessee
JD, University of Tennessee
After graduating law school, Leigh served as judicial law clerk to U.S. District Judge James C. Turk of the Western District of Virginia. She completed a second clerkship as a pro se law clerk supervised by U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski of the Western District.
Best known for:
Employment law, focusing on protecting employee rights.
Signature case or representation:
In 2019, represented a former instructor of a commercial driving instruction company, successfully alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation on the basis of gender in a Title VII case. Ultimately, a new type of claim, “constructive demotion,” which is akin to “constructive discharge,” was acknowledged by the Court for the first time in the Western District of Virginia.. See Salmons v. Commercial Driver Servs. (W.D. Va. 2019).
Other important cases:
- Won a Title VII jury trial for a female corrections officer who alleged to have been terminated from the Department of Corrections after complaining about her supervising officer’s unwanted sexual advances. Reed v DOC.
- In two racial discrimination cases, Atkins v. VDOT, and Wolfe v. VDOT, represented prevailing parties in Title VII actions against VDOT. The cases were notable both due to the extreme evidence of racial discrimination uncovered and the subsequent overhaul of the offices.
- Represented a former law professor in a Title IX and Title VII suit against a regional law school. The matter received national news coverage and is notable for the extension of Title IX protections to faculty. Confidentiality provisions prohibit further detail.
Working with clients:
My approach to advising clients is to truly care about their difficult situation and to let them share their story and feel heard. I often joke that I use my undergraduate freshman year Psych 101 class as much as my law degree, but it is not that far from the truth. Intense emotions necessarily come along with a job loss or the experience of a hostile work environment, etc., and those feelings need to be processed or the matter will never resolve.
Best career advice:
We try to approach resolution with opposing counsel without intense emotion or aggression.
One of my first mentors, David Paxton of Gentry Locke, illustrated to me by example early on in my career that an attorney can be an effective and zealous advocate for their client without being unpleasant. We have tried to implement that type of tone and professional approach throughout the culture of our firm.
Outlook for 2021:
The Green Practice of Law! I hope to see a continued use of technology between counsel and supported by the courts as it is a very efficient way to practice. I also believe that it serves another and very important goal–reduced travel by attorneys and witnesses and clients, which reduces global emissions. There are very few issues more important than addressing climate change and I hope that our field will continue to embrace technology even after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.