Sonia, a nursing assistant, found herself in an unlawful situation and did not know where to turn. She worked long hours filled with the harsh physical and emotional demands of caring for the ill. She tended to the health and wellness of countless patients, provided a steady hand for those finding their strength after an injury, and acted as a calming presence for those facing a challenging diagnosis.
She did this for more than a year without a single vacation day because her employer would not allow her or her coworkers to use their earned vacation time. Her employer also refused to pay Sonia and her coworkers for their unused vacation time, meaning they were being cheated out of money they rightfully earned.
What Sonia’s employer was doing was illegal, but Sonia and her coworkers were without recourse because they could not afford an attorney.
That’s when VLP stepped in.
VLP provided Sonia with a pro bono attorney who sent a demand letter to her employer for the unpaid vacation time. Through diligent advocacy, her VLP attorney negotiated a settlement in Sonia’s favor. What’s more, her employer has amended its practices to be compliant with the law. Now all of Sonia’s coworkers are allowed to use their hard-earned vacation time!
VLP—along with its community of volunteers and supporters—is helping local Boston-area residents like Sonia every day. Thank you for your support.
When he came to the Civil Session of our Fair Debt Collection Lawyer for the Day program, our client felt scared. “I didn’t know what was going on. I never been in trouble in my life. I was in the military. I was actually scared for the first time in my adult life.”
The client had been brought to BMC Central after a judgment was entered against him in Fall River for debt collection. Now the creditor was filing an action with his employer so that they could garnish his wages to collect on the $9,000 debt.
But when the client spoke with VLP Staff Attorney Tallulah Knopp, he was confused. He said he was working with a debt settlement company to help pay off his credit. “They called me and said we have a great deal for you. We can reduce the rates. We can reduce the bills. I just had to pay $528 a month…They were supposed to help me settle all the credit debt I owed.”
Unfortunately, these predatory debt settlement practices are all too common. Attorney Knopp researched the company, and after reading through their contract and ledger with the client, she found some issues. The company promised the client that they would negotiate a settlement with the original creditor. However, they knew they would be unable to do so because the creditor refuses to negotiate with debt settlement companies like this one. Despite already knowing this, they continued to charge the client over $500 per month to settle the case. As if that wasn’t enough, they gave the client the impression that they would represent him if the case went to court, which they didn’t.
Attorney Knopp recognized these actions as unfair and deceptive. After multiple attempts by the client and VLP to contact the settlement company, Attorney Knopp wrote them a 93A Demand Letter, outlining exactly how their practices violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. She explained how the company’s actions damaged the client’s credit, forced him to take time off from work for court dates, and created significant emotional stress, among other things. The client reflected on how this debt impacted him and his family:
“I never really owed anybody anything in my life, and once these guys took my money, I had 16 creditors calling me saying that they weren’t getting anything from me…I try not to let anything bother me when I’m with my kids and wife, but it was hard. I had trouble sleeping. It was always on my mind. I just wanted it to stop.”
In her letter, Attorney Knopp argued that the settlement company’s deceptive actions caused significant harm to the client and warranted a reasonable settlement.
After receiving Attorney Knopp’s thorough demand letter and settlement offer, the company was persuaded to return all $2,376.25 to the client, plus $1,000 in attorney’s fees to VLP. Even better, from that deal, Attorney Knopp was able to negotiate a settlement with the original creditor where the client would pay them a lump sum of about $2,000. In exchange, the original creditor would drop the rest of $9,000 judgment against him. When Attorney Knopp told the client, he was thrilled.
“She informed me that they would send me a check and I was so happy. I was relieved because then I had the money to pay [the original creditor]… It’s been a rough 2 years – I had an injury at work. I couldn’t do some of the things I used to. With the $2,000 I could pay off my debt and I had some money left over for groceries.”
Thanks to Attorney Knopp’s diligence, this client was able to reach a fair settlement in his debt collection case and regain some peace of mind.
This issue features a Board Member and Volunteer Spotlight, as well as a Guardianship Case Win and Clinic Story. It also includes a PBIF Grant Update, AmeriCorps Appreciation and welcome to new VLP Staff. Read our Newsletter to learn more about what we’ve been up to this Summer!
Attorney Nicole Bluefort is a valued volunteer at VLP, having worked on multiple family law cases with us. She was recently interviewed by ThriveGlobal for their series on Strong Female Leaders. Attorney Bluefort worked for the first African American to be appointed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Justice Frederick Brown. Her knowledge and drive have led to her appearing on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and FOX. She has earned numerous awards, including Mass Lawyers Weekly Top Women of Law 2018, the National Bar Association’s Top 40 Under 40, and the 2019 Business Woman of the Year Award, among many other distinguished honors.
Attorney Bluefort has shown strength, determination, and incredible compassion with our clients, and we know she carries those same qualities with her in every aspect of her life. To learn more about her story and hear the advice she has for female leaders everywhere, be sure to read her interview with ThriveGlobal here. We feel honored to count Attorney Nicole Bluefort as one of volunteers and supporters.