Bettina Plevan, the lawyer who fought to end workplace discrimination, died Thursday. She was 75.
Mrs. Plevan, who founded a leading employment law firm in New York City that grew into an international powerhouse, dedicated her life to fighting injustice, religious persecution and injustice in other ways.
Along with her partner, Henrietta Mazur, she helped preserve the Jewish and Muslim identities of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. They acted as their own lawyer in the cases, which became the focus of her later advocacy for increased Holocaust remembrance.
“She had a powerful faith in justice. She believed she could always find the right avenue, no matter how bitter it was,” Ms. Mazur said in an interview Friday.
Bettina M. Plevan was born in Russia, the first of five children in a devout Jewish family. Though she did not grow up Jewish, she developed a passionate interest in the Jewish people and world religions.
One of her earliest mentors was Joseph Frank, a decorated survivor of Auschwitz, who taught her about the Hebrew Bible and later counseled her and her husband, Israel.
After immigrating to the United States as a refugee in 1971, Mrs. Plevan started her own firm in a Greenwich Village apartment, advising clients who faced discrimination at work. In 1986, she and Ms. Mazur established the firm Marcus Plevan & Mazur, dedicating herself to helping women and minorities who were disproportionately burdened by employment discrimination.
The firm, and the founders, were lauded for championing a wide array of interests, including immigration and the environment. But their most important work was litigation, giving them a window into more lives than most lawyers.
In June 2018, the New York Times collected the stories of 105 clients represented by the firm and their colleagues, including moving testimony from an immigrant in New York unable to read in order to confirm employment; public pleas in Seattle and Los Angeles for a homeless man who had died; successful lawsuits against child pornography; and a homeowner who received a complicated package addressed to the wrong person.
They were also the primary attorneys in a fight to bar North Carolina from adopting a law that expanded a litigious approach toward settling religious conflicts at the expense of religious freedom. In a posthumous endorsement, the late Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., hailed the firm and its partners as “unwavering in their moral leadership.”