Pamela Richardson has been working since she was thirteen. “Whether it was waitressing or delivering newspapers, my parents raised me to work hard and be an independent woman,” she says. When asked to recall early career dreams, she says she and her parents, who were both social workers, thought the legal profession appeared interesting and exciting on TV, “but it seemed totally out of reach.”
She decided to get a BA in communications. After two years in advertising, she applied to law school, earning a merit scholarship after her first year. Staying true to her upbringing, she worked during her last year of law school—at the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers/Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA). She also interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“I was interested in labor and employment (L&E) law from the very beginning,” she says, “and especially enjoyed my classes in labor law, OSHA, and employment discrimination. The latter was taught by one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s attorneys.”
After graduation, Richardson went to work in the New York City Law Department. “I like public service and wanted to be able to actually litigate L&E cases,” she says. “I took depositions, argued cases in court, and got hands-on immersion into the practice of law. I wouldn’t have had those opportunities as quickly if I had started out in a law firm.”
After three years, she joined the DC office of Patton Boggs (now Squire Patton Boggs). “I was able to tap into other skills there, like counseling clients and helping resolve issues before they got to the litigation stage,” she explains.
Over the next ten years, she held a number of positions in prestigious law firms and the government, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, but she wanted to be more directly involved in establishing L&E policies, which she says is best done at the company level. She also wanted to spend more time with her family and be close to good medical facilities for one of her children. That was when she heard about an in-house position at American Water, the nation’s largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company, located just seven miles from her house and close to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. She joined the company as director of labor and employment law in 2016.
“This is the best career decision I’ve ever made,” Richardson says. “I am involved in a lot of different things—ERISA, immigration, executive compensation—instead of being siloed and isolated in a particular niche.”
American Water’s locally managed utility subsidiaries have to comply with various state regulations and seventy-three different collective bargaining agreements, which Richardson must learn so she can ensure policies are in compliance for the company’s 7,100 employees. She has also learned more about the company’s business operations through her work on a team that responds to state rate increases.
In addition, Richardson plays a major role in the company’s diversity programs, which is one of her passions. “We focus on inclusion and diversity and work hard to widen our recruitment sources so we can find the best people,” she says.
The approach is apparently working. American Water’s CEO, CFO, SVP of HR, and controller are all women. Of the company’s seventeen subsidiaries’ presidents, at least five are women. “Our female executives have been very successful, which has emphasized and illustrated what women can do, especially since this is traditionally a male-dominated industry,” Richardson says. It has also landed the company on the Bloomberg 2019 Gender Equality Index.
To help fill the pipeline and give promising law students greater opportunities, the company participates in the Diversity Corporate Summer Internship Program, sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). “We recently moved our headquarters from Voorhees to Camden, New Jersey, which has put us closer to Rutgers University Law School and Philadelphia’s public transit lines,” Richardson notes. “We look forward to giving these students real-world experience in corporate law.”
The Camden move has also prompted an outpouring of philanthropy, including the donation of more than $5 million to local projects and organizations over the past six years. “We gave $1 million to rehabilitate homes and improve flood prevention in east Camden and have made major contributions to the local schools,” Richardson says. The company also supports Lucy Outreach, which offers services to low-income teenagers and young adults throughout Camden County. “Since 2008, the children who have participated have had a 100 percent high school graduation rate, and 94 percent have gone on to college,” Richardson says.
“It’s great to be part of a company that is truly dedicated and committed when it comes to lifting others up and supporting worthwhile causes, and whose mission is to provide one of our most essential needs: clean, safe water,” Richardson says.
American Water Charitable Foundation
American Water established the American Water Charitable Foundation in 2012 to help support the communities where the company and its employees live and work. Since its founding, the Foundation has donated more than $3 million in grants and matching gifts, including:
$2.5 million to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) to establish the “Building Better Communities” program, which funds local park development, preserves natural resources, and teaches environmental stewardship. Between 2014 and 2018, twelve projects were funded nationwide. For example, the city of Peoria, Illinois, received a $150,000 grant to build GreenSplash, a public park, near Harrison Primary School.
$175k to enable Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) members and American Water employees to spend time and skills improving water-based recreational venues, enhancing the environmental sustainability of recreational areas, and contributing to water-related conservation projects. Completed projects include improving kayak and canoe trails, boat ramps, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)–compliant fishing piers.
$126k in community safety grants, including donations to fire departments across the country to purchase firefighting and life-saving equipment.
$70k to the American Red Cross to help people impacted by hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
“We have had the privilege to work with Pam Richardson on labor and employment matters. Pam displays a thoughtful approach to litigation that balances the needs of the business with an appropriate and cost-effective strategy from outside counsel to successfully litigate a matter to conclusion. She confronts adversity with aplomb and provides critical insight to both outside counsel and business leaders that ensures a successful resolution to issues. Pam Richardson is a pleasure to work with, and we are proud to call her and all the great people at American Water our client.”
–Mychal Sommer Schulz, Esq., Shareholder
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP:
“I’ve worked with many in-house lawyers over the years, and Pam truly stands out. She is strategic, practical, and completely dedicated to achieving the Ccompany’s goals. As if that weren’t enough, Pam is also an absolute pleasure to work for.”