Last week, the 11th grade U.S. History class was visited virtually by Judge Theresa C. Timlin, the District Chief Judge for the U.S. Dept. Of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges’ Cherry Hill, N.J. office. The history students are learning about the Supreme Court, and they must write their own opinion of a 2020-21 case that they have chosen for their final assessment of the project.
Judge Timlin, who began her career as a kindergarten teacher and medical secretary, explained to the girls that her pathway to judgeship was not a direct one; she took the LSAT on a whim while working as a medical secretary and did well on the exam. When her boss at the time heard she was considering law school, he told her she couldn’t be a lawyer, because she was “just a secretary.” That statement was the deciding factor in Timlin becoming a lawyer, she told the girls via Zoom.
“I didn’t want to hear that I couldn’t do something,” Judge Timlin said.
Judge Timlin, who hears civil cases involving employee discrimination, said she also came into Employment Law accidentally and that was not the type of law she had expected to practice. But now, she loves every bit of it.
“Employment Law is the best legal career because we get to affect all people, because everyone works,” Judge Timlin explained to the students.
In this U.S. History class unit, the students are focusing on the writing of the U.S. Constitution, the role of the Supreme Court within a system of checks and balances, and how judges use the Constitution to inform the decisions they make.
The girls submitted questions to Judge Timlin asking her things like how is she doing her job during the pandemic, what were the hardest and most memorable cases she had to decide, and whether it is difficult for her to put aside personal emotions when deciding a case.
The judge recalled a former case that was particularly hard because the immigrant employees were working in physically unacceptable work conditions, and were also not being paid on a regular basis. Both the employees and employer spoke different languages, making it difficult for both sides to communicate the issues, Judge Timlin recalled. She ruled in favor of the employees who received back pay and required the employer to implement record keeping and regularly issue pay to the workers.
Judge Timlin was also interested in what court cases the girls had chosen to give opinions on. A few of the girls shared their cases, which are currently going through the court process, and explained its complexities.
One of the cases is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, where the Supreme Court will hear the case that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer-funding (like foster care providers, food banks and homeless shelters) to deny services to people who are LGBTQ or based on their religious affiliation. Judge Timlin, who was aware of the Fulton case, was interested to learn how the students, and ultimately, the courts, will rule in the end.
Following the judge’s visit, the students shared their take-aways from the virtual visit, including that you can’t base a court decision off of just morals — it has to be decided from the Constitution and laws. They said Judge Timlin helped them to understand that sometimes you can feel empathy toward the victims but that can’t affect a ruling.
Thanks to Judge Timlin for sharing her experience with our students!