February 01, 2013

February 2013: Michelle Duprey

Candor Sets Career Course for Lawyer with Brittle Bone Disease

While attending the University of Connecticut School of Law, Michelle Duprey had a “terrible time” landing a clerkship where she could further explore her interests in corporate and tax.  She had not considered that her lack of success was due to her disability—Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a brittle bone disorder that causes many fractures—until one day a professor asked, “Did it ever occur to you that you are being discriminated against?”  A light went on.  “From that point forward I looked at the process with clearer vision.”  Michelle “found it best” to disclose her disability in her cover letters, explaining why it is an asset.  “If the employer threw out my resume because it didn’t want to hire people with disabilities, at least I didn’t waste my time interviewing or raise my hopes.”  Michelle cautions, however, that disclosure is not for everyone and is a factor to seriously consider, particularly if one has a hidden disability and needs no accommodations.”

It was also at that point that Michelle took a discrimination law class and loved it.  “My parents lost job opportunities because they had a child with a disability.  I myself was excluded from many aspects of my early education because of my disability . . . it was meant to be.”

So, after graduation, Michelle started a solo practice focused on employment discrimination, taking on a variety of cases, not only those involving disability-based discrimination.  “It was very tough, but well worth it.  I learned so much and knew that no matter what was thrown my way I could handle it.”

Eventually, it was with the City of New Haven where Michelle found her true calling.  As Director of the Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities for 18 years, both her personal and professional experiences have proven so valuable.  Her goal is to ensure that the citizens of New Haven enjoy full access to its programs, services, and activities. “Whether it has been increasing the number of accessible taxis in New Haven, pushing for better sidewalks, voting access, or emergency planning, it is the little victories that pop up here in and there that really, when looking back, make me feel like I’ve accomplished something not only for myself but for my community.”

Michelle observes that lawyers with disabilities are still not “welcomed with open arms” in the profession.  The only accommodation she requires at work is a flexible schedule.  Michelle uses a power wheelchair to get around.  Her advice to legal recruiters wondering where they can find qualified lawyers with disabilities:  “You often won’t find us in the usual places.  We often hide in government or non-profit jobs, small places that are more accepting of hiring individuals with disabilities.

When she is not working for the city, Michelle is active in her local state bar.  After attending a number of events at inaccessible locations, she spearheaded an initiative that now requires all state bar meetings to take place at accessible facilities and restaurants.  It was approved by the bar’s governing body, and businesses were informed of the new policy.  “I think it goes a long way to promoting acceptance of lawyers with disabilities."