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Alumna Inspires Students With Career Achievements

November 11, 2011

Angela Alioto BA ’72, JD ’83, a civil rights attorney and former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, spoke with students at a Nov. 9 event sponsored by the Office of Career Planning, USF Law Democrats, and the Women’s Law Association.

Angela Alioto BA '72, JD '83, talks about her legal career with USF law students.

Alioto’s firm, the Angela Alioto Law Group, has won more than $300 million in jury verdicts and settlements, including a $135 million jury verdict in a racial discrimination case against Interstate Bakeries Corporation, the parent company of Wonder Bread.

In this case, Alioto and her firm represented 20 black men who endured racial slurs, and were wrongfully terminated or passed over for promotions.

Alioto described the emotional intensity of the jury and her client Willie Wilkerson, a man who had worked at Wonder Bread for 42 years, when he took the stand. “His humiliation and what he’s been through is finally being heard,” she said.

“It’s so not about money, it’s about giving people back their dignity. It sounds corny but I can’t tell you how true it is,” Alioto said. “It’s not about getting that paycheck when you’re fighting what we’re fighting.”

Alioto has worked on multiple landmark civil rights cases including a $25 million case against Universal Leaf Tobacco on behalf of two employees who were demoted and experienced other retributions after reporting a fraudulent fire insurance claim and a suit against Mary Kay Inc. for disability discrimination that resulted in an $11.2 million verdict.

Following the footsteps of her father, former San Francisco Mayor Joseph L. Alioto, she began her career in local politics. She was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1988 and chaired the health committee, and was reelected to the board in 1992. Alioto served as board president from 1993 to 1995. While president, San Francisco passed the first smoking ban in the world and other anti-tobacco legislation.

Alioto said that the biggest problem with legislation is the lack of oversight on laws that have been adopted, noting that her board removed Joe Camel ads from schools after passing anti-smoking legislation in San Francisco.

“We have thousands of laws on our books and…nobody follows up on them, so they might as well not be there,” she said. “We followed the law and made the law have teeth. I put a punitive measure in every one of my laws and if it wasn’t followed it had consequences. So many laws don’t have any consequences, so who cares?”

When asked what advice she would give to law students, she said “Get into something you love doing and litigate. Go in the courtroom, talk to the judges—it’s so much fun to win in the smallest motion.”