Julie Su, Labor CommissionerSan Francisco
Labor Commissioner, State of California
Julie A. Su is a nationally recognized expert on workers’ rights and civil rights who has dedicated her distinguished legal career to advancing justice on behalf of poor and disenfranchised communities. A MacArthur Foundation "Genius," Su is known for pioneering a multi-strategy approach that combines successful impact litigation with multiracial organizing, community education, policy reform, coalition building, and media work.
She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University and received her law degree cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. In 1994, she began her legal career at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) after receiving a prestigious Skadden Fellowship from the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Prior to her appointment as Labor Commissioner for the State of California, Su served as the Litigation Director at APALC, the nation’s largest non-profit civil rights organization devoted to issues affecting the Asian American community. In her 17 years as a civil rights lawyer, Su has brought landmark lawsuits on behalf of low-wage workers in California and initiated grassroots campaigns against sweatshop abuses. Her cases have resulted in judgments and settlements of millions of dollars for workers and effected policy changes in California and the United States. In 1995, Julie Su was the lead attorney for Thai garment workers who were trafficked into the U.S. and forced to sew behind barbed wire and under armed guard in an apartment complex in El Monte, California. Su represented the Thai workers and the Latino workers who labored at a front shop for the slave labor compound in the first federal lawsuit of its kind. The case resulted in over $4 million in settlements with garment manufacturers and retailers and two published decisions that opened the courtroom doors for workers in the underground economy to hold companies responsible for exploitation, even when they subcontract for labor. Su also succeeded in getting visas for the Thai workers, which paved the way for federal legislation protecting survivors of trafficking. Su has litigated numerous other cases on behalf of low-wage workers and has become a leader in what is now a broad-based national and international campaign that includes workers, activists and good corporate citizens against sweatshop abuses throughout the world.
Su has also litigated extensively to end discrimination and segregation in education and the workplace, and to protect vulnerable and elderly immigrants against consumer fraud. She has represented African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans in a wide range of cases, including challenges to UC Berkeley’s admissions policy, Abercrombie & Fitch’s discriminatory hiring practices, English-only policies in the workplace, and Arizona's racial profiling law, SB 1070.
Throughout her career, Su has been honored by community groups, elected officials, business associations, major foundations, professional organizations, and educational institutions for her extraordinary leadership and groundbreaking work. Her numerous awards include the Reebok International Human Rights Award (1996); one of four “Pioneers in Women’s History” in an official proclamation by President William Jefferson Clinton (1997); and the Gruber Foundation International Women’s Rights Prize (2006). Frequently named to top-lawyer lists such as the Daily Journal's “Top 75 Women Litigators” in California and California Lawyer's "Super Lawyers," she has also been named one of the 50 most noteworthy women alumni of Harvard Law School and one of the 100 most “Influential” people in Los Angeles in Los Angeles Magazine. Julie Su has been featured in Ms., Working Woman, Redbook, and Biography magazine. Her life and work have been profiled by the Lifetime network on its program “Final Justice” and the PBS show “Personal Best.” Su has taught at UCLA Law School and Northeastern Law School and is a regular participant in scholarly conferences and a guest lecturer in law school classes across the country.
Su, who is the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was raised in Southern California. She is married to Hernán D. Vera, the President and CEO of Public Counsel, the largest pro bono law office in the nation. They have two daughters. Julie Su speaks Mandarin and Spanish.