Minnesota Law

Spring 2024

A Tradition of Excellence in Labor & Employment Law

Professors Charlotte Garden and Matthew Bodie build on an impressive legacy in labor & employment law left by Professors Laura Cooper and Stephen Befort ’74

Prof. Matthew Bodie and Prof. Charlotte Garden

For the last year and a half, two extraordinary faculty members have been building on the Law School’s national reputation for excellence in labor and employment law. 

Professors Charlotte Garden and Matthew Bodie joined the faculty in 2022, succeeding two pillars in Minnesota’s labor and employment law community, Professors Emeriti Laura Cooper and Stephen Befort ’74

After the retirements of Befort and Cooper — who each taught at the Law School for four decades — faculty, alumni, and students, including the Student Employment and Labor Law Association (SELLA), recognized the importance of retaining a leading labor and employment program. 

“In terms of the Law School’s commitment, it says something when a school is interested in not only having one person on the faculty who teaches labor and employment classes — who thinks about these issues full time — but also in actually having two people,” Garden says. 

Bodie, too, heard from multiple sources about the value of labor and employment law. “A core group of students and faculty, but particularly an energized group of students, emphasized the need for a high quality labor and employment law program,” he says. 

Bodie and Garden note a strong union presence and tradition in Minnesota, as well as growing support for labor unions nationally. Last year, Gallup found that 67% of Americans approved of labor unions. 

Both faculty members say that support for unions is being driven by frontline workers and others experiencing the pandemic as a work and health emergency, as well as younger workers who want more of a voice in the workplace. 

A local nursing strike in 2022, the recent strikes by Hollywood writers and actors and auto workers, and the unionization of Starbucks employees also fueled that interest, Bodie says. 

Bodie and Garden had met Befort and Cooper at conferences over the years. They were well aware of Minnesota Law’s long history of strong scholarships and teaching in labor and employment law. 

Prof. Emirita Laura Cooper

Cooper and Befort co-edited the ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law for nine years, adding to the Law School’s national profile, and worked with Bodie on his transition to faculty co-editor of the journal before he came to Minnesota Law. 

Prof. Emeritus Stephen Befort ’74
photo: tony nelson

Garden and Bodie have known each other through conferences, collaborated on amicus briefs, and served as co-editors of an online legal scholarship review site. They teamed last fall to co-host the Law School’s 18th Annual Colloquium on Scholarship and Employment in Labor Law, a national conference that drew more than 75 professors and dozens of presenters from around the country at Minnesota Law. 

Garden, the Julius E. Davis Professor of Law, specializes in labor law, employment law, and constitutional law. Her writing addresses labor protest rights and the First Amendment. 

“I’m interested in the difficulty of enforcing employment law rights, especially for low-wage workers, while considering ways to make labor and employment rights more real for more workers,” Garden says. 

Garden’s scholarship has appeared in leading law reviews. She is co-author of two labor and employment law casebooks and co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of U.S. Labor Law for the Twenty-First Century. Her opinion pieces have appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic and SCOTUSBlog, and she has been quoted in the New York Times, among many other media outlets. 

“Even though a lot of adults have jobs, it’s easy for people to have misconceptions about their rights at work,” Garden says. “If I have an opportunity to help educate the public, that’s not formally part of my job but an important extension of it.” 

She has worked to strengthen workers’ rights on a national policy level through the Economic Policy Institute’s Unequal Power Project. In 2019, Garden testified before a U.S. Congressional committee on the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, the most ambitious effort to reform American labor law in decades. 

Garden previously was a professor at Seattle University School of Law, where she served as co-associate dean for research and faculty development.

Bodie teaches and writes on labor and employment law, corporate law, data privacy, and algorithmic management. The Robins Kaplan Professor of Law, he describes the focus of his scholarship as “the crossover between corporate law and labor law.” 

Bodie is also interested in providing protections for the employee data that employers collect and the data that workers create on the job. 

Bodie has published more than 50 book chapters and journal articles. He is the co-author of Reconstructing the Corporation: From Shareholder Primacy to Shared Governance, which includes proposals for worker representation on corporate boards. He has been interviewed and quoted in many media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post

Prior tojoining Minnesota Law, Bodie was the Callis Family Professor at Saint Louis University School of Law, where he was a member and co-director of the Wefel Center for Employment Law. Before that, he was an associate professor at Hofstra University School of Law and an acting assistant professor of lawyering at NYU School of Law. 

Garden and Bodie both enjoy engaging with alumni who practice in the labor and employment law arena and frequently have them speak with students. 

Building on a legacy 

Bodie recognizes how many students Befort and Cooper influenced and inspired over the years. “We hear the names of Steve Befort and Laura Cooper so often mentioned as meaningful mentors in the field, so we want to carry on that tradition,” he says. 

In addition to alumni in private practice and in-house roles, Minnesota Law graduates who studied with Befort or Cooper hold top positions in numerous state and federal labor regulatory agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board and Minnesota Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). 

Jess Anna King ’03 is executive director and general counsel of PERB, where Cooper now serves as board chair. Befort, King’s Labor Law professor, served as her mentor when she became an arbitrator. 

“If you’re practicing labor or employment in the state of Minnesota, you’ve had Cooper or Befort or both and they’ve made an impact on your life and practice,” King says. 

Cooper was the first woman to receive tenure at Minnesota Law. A renowned expert in labor law and workplace dispute resolution, she helped the Law School establish labor and employment law as a specialty.

To prepare, Cooper worked for a summer as an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in Minneapolis. She then spent a sabbatical year observing federal and state mediators, arbitrators, and labor attorneys, as well as agency and court proceedings. 

“It would be inappropriate if not fraudulent for someone to say, ‘I am the labor law teacher’ without being immersed in the labor law world,” Cooper says. 

Cooper eventually created the capstone course in Labor and Employment Law, an innovative semester-long simulation that integrated labor and employment law with practical skills and ethical and professional issues. 

Cooper obtained grants for empirical and analytical research on labor law, among other subjects, which helped her build expertise and eventually become a labor arbitrator. The co-author or co-editor of six books on labor law and workplace dispute resolution, she also received the 2009 Stanley V. Kinyon Tenured Teacher of the Year Award. 

As opportunities arose, Cooper collaborated with Befort, including on the ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law. They persuaded the ABA to publish articles by students on a trial basis — which it had never done before. This was so successful that there are now three student articles published per year in the journal. 

A national authority on labor and employment law, Befort has continued teaching since his retirement. His honors include the Stanley V. Kinyon Teaching and Counseling Award in 1993 and 2008. 

Befort’s positive clinic experience as a student motivated him to serve as the Law School’s Clinic program director from 1982 to 2003, during which time he increased the number of clinics and faculty regard for the clinical education program. 

“I still consider Professor Befort a mentor who helped shape the direction of my career,” says Richard Pins ’95, a partner at Stinson’s Minneapolis office. “He was both a smart and practical professor but also my civil clinic supervisor. In those roles he was patient and prepared and understanding.” 

Befort is proud of the work he and Cooper did to build the labor and employment law curriculum and program, as well as the relationships they forged with the practicing bar in Minnesota and nationally. Those connections often helped students find jobs. 

Before joining the faculty, Befort worked in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and was principal assistant Ramsey County attorney. He began his career as legal counsel to PERB and the Bureau of Mediation Services. He has written more than 60 articles, book chapters, and papers on labor and employment subjects and has authored six books and co-authored a casebook on disability law. 

“Professor Cooper and I both did a lot of publishing in top journals,” Befort says. “We were also very active in different labor and employment groups that involved academics in the field. We were passionate about the topic and interested in not just building a reputation but being involved. It helped us in terms of our knowledge and teaching and scholarship to exchange ideas with leading scholars from other schools.” 

Befort was among those who pushed to hire new faculty to continue advancing the labor and employment law program he and Cooper built. 

“Charlotte and Matthew are exactly what we need to carry on and enhance the labor and employment program,” Befort says. “To hire not one but two excellent, younger faculty to take over is a home run.”