We caught up with law alumna Heidi Hovis ’10 to find out what she’s been up to since she left St. Thomas Law eight years ago. Hovis grew up in Princeton, Minn., and studied social work at Winona State University before coming to St. Thomas for law school. She now lives in Clearwater, Minn., with her husband, fellow St. Thomas Law grad Daniel Morris ’10, and their two kids: Eloise (1) and Peter (4).
Q: Describe your job. What does a typical day look like for you, and what do you find fulfilling?
A: I am an Enforcement Officer with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. I’m based out of the regional office in St. Cloud, MN. I work to eliminate discrimination from Minnesota’s workplaces, businesses, schools, police departments, and rental housing. I help enforce Minnesota’s anti-discrimination law, The Human Rights Act, so that people are not treated differently due to innate characteristics that make them who they are, such as race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, age and/or sexual orientation. I meet with people from all over the state who feel they have experienced discrimination. If their experience appears to be a violation of the Act, I help them file an administrative charge with the Department.
I also investigate the charges and issue written findings. If there is probable cause that discrimination occurred in violation of the Act, the findings are used to reach a two prong outcome. First, the person who experienced discrimination receives damages. Second, the entity found to have engaged in the discriminatory conduct is required to implement policies or procedures to ensure other people aren’t subjected to similar treatment.
My position is also focused on education and outreach. I regularly meet with community members, business owners, and other leaders in our community about what our Department is doing to address discrimination.
The Department isn’t able to undo discrimination but we work diligently to ensure similar discriminatory conduct doesn’t happen again. Being part of a process that creates systemic change and works towards justice by directly confronting discrimination is fulfilling.
Q: What’s the single most meaningful experience you’ve had in your career so far?
A: My first job as an attorney was with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, where I represented persons who had experienced domestic violence. When a client obtained an Order from Protection against her abuser, I watched the client transition from being a victim to being an empowered survivor. The OFP gave the client the ability to live her life again without fear.
Q: What is the most indispensable piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: “Do the work.” This was said to me by a former soccer coach. I know that I can’t expect results unless I am willing to do the work.
Q: Who is your professional hero?
A: My brother Keith wrote a historical musical, Pioneer Suite, about Martha Angle Dorsett. In 1878, she successfully lobbied the Minnesota legislature to remove language from Minnesota’s attorney qualification statute that limited the granting of law licenses to men and became the first female lawyer in Minnesota. Her legacy is one of equity and it resonates with me today.
Q: How have the lessons you learned and the experiences you had at St. Thomas Law been woven into your career?
A: I chose St. Thomas Law because of its focus on social justice. The legal clinics were instrumental in helping me learn how to use my legal education to make a difference. In the Elder Law Clinic, my partner and I were able to help a person under civil commitment obtain a new and more responsive guardian. So much of our client’s autonomy had been limited by the guardianship. He wanted to find a guardian who would consider what he wanted when making decisions. That experience helped me understand that people, all people, want to be heard. In my volunteer work with Central Minnesota Legal Services, I do my best to take the time to listen to clients so that I understand and work for what they want not what I think is best for them.
Q: Who was the most influential person for you at St. Thomas Law?
A: Sara Sommarstrom, fellow with the Minnesota Justice Foundation, met me in a coffee shop weeks before my first 1L class. We talked about my desire to pursue a public interest career, and she set me up with a hands-on volunteer experience in Hennepin County’s housing court that first year of law school. Sara continued to help me throughout law school with finding experiences where I could gain practical legal knowledge and experience. Thankfully those experiences helped me convince someone to hire me after graduation!