Breaking the Ice: Minnesota Lawyer Profile

A Q&A With GenderJustice Legal Director Jess Braverman

Jess Braverman focuses on gender-based discrimination

By Todd Nelson | August 18, 2022
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Jess Braverman, legal director of Gender Justice, says the St. Paul-based organization intends to appeal a jury’s ruling that a pharmacist who refused to provide a woman emergency contraceptives did not violate her rights.

While the case has made headlines around the country, Braverman said her work on behalf of client Andrea Anderson is consistent with her longtime interest in challenging gender-based discrimination. Anderson, a mother of five from McGregor, sued under the state’s Human Rights Act after the pharmacist declined her request.

Braverman said she has faced such discrimination throughout her life, including at her swearing-in ceremony as an attorney in Brooklyn. Someone tried to make her leave, Braverman said, “because they thought I was a guy who shows up without a tie, because they had these gendered dress codes.”

Formerly a public defender in New York City and Hennepin County, Braverman joined Gender Justice, a legal and advocacy nonprofit, in May 2019.

Name: Jess Braverman
Title: Legal director, Gender Justice
Education: B.A., philosophy, Smith College; J.D., New York University School of Law

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: I have a major sweet tooth — pies, doughnuts, baked goods. If you want to talk about sweet foods or baked goods, you’ll have my full attention.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: I wanted a job where I could help people and make a difference for the individuals that I had the honor of representing. I wanted something that had a challenge, that would require problem solving, so I was drawn to law school.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, especially queer sci-fi and fantasy. I recently finished “Fevered Star” by Rebecca Roanhorse. That was fantastic. I’m excited for the sequel to “The City We Became” by N.K. Jemison.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: I’m sure my wife would say I have a lot of pet peeves.

Best part of your work?

The clients we work with are brave, taking situations where they’re mistreated and might be powerless, and despite all the obstacles to being a plaintiff, how hard it is, how vulnerable you have to make yourself, they still do it. Also, my co-workers. Everyone at Gender Justice is so smart and so fantastic to work with.

Best part of your work?

Q: Least favorite?

A: Not getting as much sleep as I’d like.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I like baking. I like going to see the Minnesota Lynx play basketball. And I love bike riding.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I’m from the Bronx. Maybe I’d take them to the Bronx Zoo, to show off that I used to drive the monorail. That was between my first and second year of college. It’s the only reason I got a driver’s license, because you needed one to drive the monorail. It was hard, it was low paid, but it was so cool. You could drive around in the morning before the customers were there and see the animals doing their morning thing.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: So many of my clients. They’re not just putting in the work, they’re putting in the emotional labor. They have their lives scrutinized. You might have your therapy records disclosed. You might have people disparaging you in the media. One client who stands out is JayCee Cooper (transgender athlete and plaintiff in Gender Justice lawsuit over USA Powerlifting’s competition ban). She has to deal with relentless negativity, and she’s still saying, “What happened to me is wrong and I’m doing something about that.”

Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?

A: Legal issues and procedural issues can get complicated. To me, it just seems so simple. People should be treated with dignity and respect and the laws, especially the discrimination laws in our Constitution should reflect that. If we can do something to stop it, we do and that’s what we go to court to do.

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