M. Patricia Smith '77, outgoing commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor, was honored as the Law Women’s 2010 alumna of the year on February 3, the day before the U.S. Senate approved her long-awaited nomination to become solicitor of the U. S. Department of Labor—the number three official in the department. In his introductory remarks, Dean Richard Revesz joked: “One thing I’m pretty certain of is that Commissioner Smith will remember where she was tonight because tomorrow is a pretty important day in her life.” Smith, who will assume her post later this month, will work with Deputy Secretary Seth Harris '90.

A relentless champion of disenfranchised workers, Smith worked for various legal service organizations before joining the Office of the New York State Attorney General in 1987, where she rose to chief of the Labor Bureau. During her 19 years of service, she and then-A.G. Eliot Spitzer made headlines for cracking down on restaurateurs, greengrocers, and even a placement service for bathroom attendants for wage and hour violations. As commissioner of labor, a position she has held since 2007, Smith helped win more than $20 million in back pay for thousands of workers, including a record $2.3 million settlement with Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Grill.

In her speech, she talked about her own experiences, from breaking new ground for women to arguing cases before the Supreme Court. She urged the members of the audience "to be sure of yourself..and don’t be intimidated,” no matter what the situation. Smith, who also graduated during law school during touch economic times, went on to encourage the group to "use this as an opportunity," assuring them everything would work out in the long run. "If you need to take a job that’s not exactly what you wanted; if you’re thinking about something that’s totally different -- do it.," she said. "You will find your way. We’ve all found our ways.”

Posted February 8, 2010