Fromson honored for spearheading legal reform to improve systemic response to violence against women
Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project, has been chosen to receive a prestigious 20/20 Vision Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence. Marking its 20th anniversary, the Commission created the 20/20 Vision Award to honor 20 lawyers who have played key roles in improving societal response to domestic and sexual violence. Fromson will be honored along with Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990, Senator Patrick Leahy, and other visionary leaders from across the country.
One of Fromson’s many accomplishments noted by the Commission is her pioneering work exposing disgraceful and widespread practices of insurance companies that discriminated against domestic violence victims. As it so often does, Fromson’s inquiry began when a courageous woman reported that she was denied health, life and mortgage insurance because she had told her doctor she was assaulted by her husband. After investigating the details of this woman’s case, Fromson worked with allies to collect documentation of similar stories, and analyzed insurance company regulations and procedures regarding domestic violence.
Fromson discovered that insurance companies were using information about abuse learned from medical records and insurance databases to deny insurance altogether, charge increased premiums, cancel coverage, and refuse to pay claims. And they were doing it in health, life, disability, and property insurance. In some cases, insurance companies refused to provide group coverage for a business if any employees had a documented history of domestic violence.
Such discrimination has dangerous consequences. For example, if a batterer set a spouse’s house on fire, the insurance company could deny the claim made by the victim by using an exclusion for “intentional acts.” Through this practice, insurance companies were essentially helping abusers achieve their goal of leaving victims without any options or ability to recover, or move on.
After investigating and documenting the problem, Fromson and allies spearheaded legal reform by working with insurance regulators and lawmakers to draft legislation. Since then, 45 states and D.C. have passed legislation that prohibits insurers from using a history of domestic violence to inform coverage.
Battling insurance discrimination is just one of many pioneering projects Fromson has undertaken through her career, which has been entirely dedicated to serving the public interest.
In Pennsylvania, Fromson helped change the law to provide victims of domestic violence a safe and confidential process to change their names. In Philadelphia, Fromson played a leading role in a 15-year campaign to improve police and prosecutorial responses to sexual assault and domestic violence, which ultimately led to the FBI adopting an expanded definition of rape. The expanded definition enables the collection of more accurate data on rape reported to law enforcement, which in turn facilitates better response to sexual assault all over the country.
Currently, Fromson serves as an advisor to the American Law Institute’s project to update the Model Penal Code’s sexual assault provisions. She routinely engages in litigation, files administrative complaints and authors amicus briefs to obtain redress for individual victims and to eliminate institutional bias. Fromson has brought significant high-impact litigation seeking redress for sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and inequities in athletic programs.
Fromson joined the Women’s Law Project in 1994. Fromson earned her Bachelor of Arts at Swarthmore College and her J.D. from New York University School of Law. Immediately after completing law school, Fromson began her public interest career at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.
In the offices of Women’s Law Project, Fromson is admired for her unparalleled work ethic and incredible ability to methodically work through countless pages of tedious regulations—such as insurance policy rules—to find the right solution to a legal problem that needs fixing.
“We are so pleased that Terry’s multi-faceted work on domestic and sexual violence will be recognized this way,” says Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “We’re thrilled the American Bar Association has chosen her for this great honor.”
“I have had the honor of working with Terry for over 20 years,” adds Sue Frietsche, Senior Attorney at the Women’s Law Project. “She is a brilliant lawyer and tireless advocate whose passion for equality and justice is inspiring.”
Fromson will receive her award in a ceremony taking place in Chicago on August 1.
The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania. To schedule an interview with Terry L. Fromson, contact Tara Murtha at firstname.lastname@example.org.