Legal Aid’s Partnership Award honors extraordinary individuals or organizations who have helped advance our mission of making justice real in DC. This year we we are honoring:
Tonya Love has served as the Director of the Claimant Advocacy Program (CAP) for the past two decades. As Director, she has represented tens of thousands of jobless workers (claimants) in unemployment compensation appeals hearings and given legal advice to countless others. In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, which resulted in an unprecedented spike in unemployment and unemployment compensation claims, Tonya and her fellow CAP attorney, Lolita Martin, represented as many as three to five claimants each day while participating in stakeholder meetings and advocacy efforts with the Department of Employment Services and the DC Council. Tonya is one of the District’s foremost experts in unemployment compensation law and edits the Unemployment Compensation section of the DC Bar Practice Manual. Tonya also serves as a member of the Hearings Committee of the DC Board on Professional Responsibility.
The Claimant Advocacy Program
The Claimant Advocacy Program (CAP) is a free legal counseling service available to individuals who file unemployment compensation appeals in the District of Columbia. CAP attorneys meet with workers denied unemployment compensation in D.C. or whose benefit awards have been appealed by the employer. CAP represents thousands of jobless workers each year.CAP has helped thousands of jobless workers obtain safety net benefits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. CAP provides free legal services to individuals who file unemployment compensation appeals and has worked tirelessly to improve DC’s unemployment system through their ardent advocacy. They are vital partners in Legal Aid’s efforts to reform the unemployment system for all DC workers.
The Partnership Award will be accepted by Tonya Love, on behalf of CAP, and Melinda Gray.
Melinda Gray was born in Washington, DC and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. After earning a Business Administration degree from Bowie State University, she worked for over 17 years as a Registered Sales Assistant. She then pursued further education, earning health certifications, leading to healthcare work in nursing homes, hospitals and private home settings. Today, she is a Patient Care Technician with the Med/Surg/Oncology unit at George Washington University Hospital. Her healthcare work has helped her become a better person and better parent of two wonderful children. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, dancing, swimming and traveling with her family.
When Ms. Gray lost her job in 2019 providing home healthcare services for an elderly individual, the system worked, and she was awarded unemployment benefits. But then her former employer appealed, twisting the words of the statute to argue that workers like Ms. Gray, who are employed directly by an individual in need of care rather than though a healthcare agency, could not receive benefits. The Claimant Advocacy Program (CAP) represented Ms. Gray in her administrative appeal, and the Administrative Law Judge agreed that Ms. Gray was entitled to benefits. Undeterred, Ms. Gray’s former employer filed a judicial appeal before the District’s highest court – the D.C. Court of Appeals.
With help from CAP, Legal Aid represented Ms. Gray before that Court, and Ms. Gray again prevailed. The Court of Appeals decision in Ms. Gray’s case finally settled her entitlement to benefits. The Court also definitively rejected all of her former employer’s legal theories and firmly established that the unemployment system covers home healthcare workers regardless of whether they are employed by an agency or directly by a patient. Thus, Ms. Gray’s victory was not only a personal one, it will also benefit the many members of Legal Aid’s client community who do the essential work of providing home health care services that allow elderly individuals and those with disabilities to remain in their homes and communities.
Member, Legal Aid Community Advisory Council
Legal Aid Client, Homeowner, Survivor
Terrace Manor “Organized for Change” Tenants Association
DC Fiscal Policy Institute
Fair Budget Coalition
Housing Counseling Services
Dr. Rhonique Shields Harris
Children’s National Medical Center
Dr. Gloria Wilder-Brathwaite