The Diversity That Leads to Diversity

Cardelle Spangler helps employers help employees

Published in 2008 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine

By William Wagner on January 8, 2008


Cardelle Spangler, an African-American woman, represents employers in race and gender discrimination suits. How does she handle the irony?

“There’s no irony to that at all,” says the 38-year-old Spangler, a partner in the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn. “There are two reasons for this. One, this is an opportunity to make the work environment better for everyone.

“Secondly, I’ve been very lucky in my career to have worked for good clients. Part of being a good client is recognizing when there’s an opportunity to acknowledge that maybe something wasn’t done properly and that the company can take some action to correct it. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a case that goes against my principles.”

Spangler joined Winston & Strawn after graduating from Washington University Law School in 1997. She was drawn to labor and employment relations litigation and has since become an ace in the field. Her résumé includes such high-profile cases as Blackwell v. American Airlines, Inc., in which she successfully defended the airline against claims of a retaliatory discharge during a two-week trial in federal court in 2004.

But the lower-profile assignments, such as counseling companies on their workplace practices, are what really appeal to her.

“One thing I also do a lot of is reviewing handbooks and policies, and conducting training for companies,” Spangler says. “Looking at it from that perspective, it’s just a great opportunity to help a company create a work environment that, hopefully, will lead to fewer claims of discrimination and harassment and that sort of thing. That’s probably the most gratifying thing: being in on some of the policy decisions that are made at companies and helping them create the most welcoming environment for employees.”

Growing up in Ashland, N.C., Spangler never aspired to be a lawyer. She didn’t gravitate toward the law until she was in her mid-20s.

“After college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” says Spangler, who majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Washington University. “I worked for Geico as an underwriter and did various other things. Through the course of figuring out what I wanted to do, I thought about law school—not so much in terms of practicing law, but I thought it would be a great education to have.”

When Spangler worked as a summer associate at Winston & Strawn in 1996, everything finally came into focus. Says Spangler, “I had the opportunity to be part of various practice groups. I took a couple projects in [the employment] group, and I very much liked the subject matter and the people I worked with.”

A little more than a decade later, Spangler is at the top of her game.

“Diversity is very important in a law firm,” she says. “I don’t just mean diversity of race and gender—though that’s a huge part of it—but diversity of thought. When you talk to other people, you’re giving a different perspective. That typically comes from having racial and gender diversity. It’s just critical for a client.”

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