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Heels of Justice

Apr 22, 2019

Welcome to Heels of Justice; these are the stories of women lawyers who are trailblazers in their field and paved the way for the rest of us.

Today, the Heels of Justice interview Kalpana Kotagal, Partner at Cohen Milstein, a member of the firm’s Civil Rights & Employment practice group, and Chair of the firm’s Hiring and Diversity Committee. Ms. Kotagal plays an active role in the investigation and development of new matters for the Civil Rights & Employment practice group. Ms. Kotagal is a co-author of the “Inclusion Rider,” referenced by Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand in her 2018 Best Actress acceptance speech.


Key Takeaways

[1:20] Katherine welcomes Kalpana to the Heels of Justice podcast and asks her to talk about what led her to law.

[4:22] From steadfastly wanting to be a class action litigator to becoming a class action litigator, were there any moments of doubt? Kalpana shares her call back week of uncertainty.

[6:44] Kalpana shares her clerkship experience and learning about the tradition and meaning of lawyering as well as the importance of a rich personal life.

[08:36] How Kalpana’s practice started and evolved at Cohen Milstein, from antitrust law to civil rights and employment practice.

[10:55] On the connection between gender and sexual discrimination in the workplace. 

[14:19] Who is Rose Schneiderman and why is her story so meaningful?

[17:30] Kalpana talks about the barriers she faces in her practice, pervasive examples being employment NDA’s, class waivers, or independent contractor issue. Katherine asks which of the issues listed would have the most impact if it was fixed immediately.

[21:57] Here is an unlikely question for Heels of Justice Podcast: Katherine asks Kalpana about the 2018 Oscars.

[26:39] And if someone wants to use the Inclusion Rider, how does one go about it?

[39:20] Kalpana talks about being thrust in the spotlight, the remarkable opportunities to have and be a voice for others as well as becoming a target for backlash and how she chooses to deal with the lows that come with this kind of exposure.  

[33:28] Failure isn’t personal: it’s part of the work, it is different from loss and it will always be a learning opportunity, Kalpana shares how she pulls through her own failures.

[39:48] Would Kalpana have any advice for her young self?

[41:06] Katherine thanks Kalpana for sharing so much of her experience on the Heels of Justice podcast and she signs off until next time.


That’s it for this episode of Heels of Justice; if you like the stories we’re telling, please visit our website. You can join our mailing list, learn more about our guests, and see what we have planned for the future.

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Disclaimer: The opinions you have heard are ours or our guest’s alone. They’re not the opinions of our employers, or our clients, or our bosses, and not our husbands, kids or pets, or anyone else’s.


Mentioned in this episode (chronological order)

Cohen Milstein

The Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher

William Fletcher

Title 7

EEOC — Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace

Jenny R. Yang

Joseph M. Sellers

Rose Schneiderman

Stacy Smith

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Inclusion Initiative

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni

Pearl Street Films

Frances McDormand at the 2018 Oscars

The Inclusion Rider

Michael B. Jordan

Warner Media

Just Mercy

Brian Stevenson

Outlier Society

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes

Justice Antonin Scalia


More about the Heels of Justice hosts Sarita Venkat, and Katherine Minarik

Heels of Justice on the Web

Heels of Justice on Twitter

Heels of Justice on Instagram

Heels of Justice on Facebook


Sarita Venkat on LinkedIn

Katherine Minarik on LinkedIn

Katherine Minarik on Twitter

Katherine Minarik at cleverbridge


Personal stories (edited)

“I really spent the bulk of my career advocating for workers, and with my two colleagues, I had been in the process of working on the inclusion rider — a contractual tool that would allow influential people in Hollywood to approve hiring practices on projects they were working on. In the months before the Oscars, we’d been working behind the scenes with agents and lawyers and talking about this project in presentations and in one of those presentations was Frances McDormand’s agent. Frances heard about the inclusion rider and when she won the Oscar, she got up on the stage and at the end of her acceptance speech she said, “I have two words to leave with you: Inclusion Rider.” All of a sudden, the project was stratospheric, everyone was asking what it was and how it could be used.”

More about our guest

Kalpana Kotagal’s bio at Cohen Milstein