Our Story


We have influenced life in America, our  organization. There is no question the work our lawyers have done has made an impact on employees, workers all over the country for the last years. For a little organization, that’s something to be proud of.

—Paul H. Tobias, NELA’s Founder & First Executive Director

In March 1985, Paul H. Tobias of Cincinnati, Ohio led a dozen plaintiffs’ employment lawyers from nine states in the creation of the Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association (PELA). The founding members of PELA envisioned that this new bar association would provide the assistance and information sought by attorneys representing individual employees, particularly in wrongful termination cases. It soon became a strong professional network for the effective sharing and support of ideas, successes, problems, and frustrations and would serve as an instrument for advancing public policy and legislation affecting the rights of employees.

For 35 years, the National Employment Lawyers Association (as the organization has been known since 1990) has empowered workers’ rights attorneys by providing legal training, promoting a fair judiciary, and advocating for laws and policies that level the playing field for workers. NELA created its partner organization, The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy, in 2008 to advance workers' rights through research, thought leadership, and education for policymakers, advocates, and the public. Today, NELA and its 69 circuit, state, and local Affiliates have grown to a membership of more than 4,000 workers’ rights advocates. NELA has changed the landscape of employment law and is more committed than ever to realizing a future in which all workers are treated with dignity and respect; workplaces are equitable, diverse, and inclusive; and the well-being of workers is a priority in business practices.

We know that there are challenges ahead for America’s workers, and we will confront them as NELA always has: by lifting up one another and sharing knowledge, strategies, and resources to make our community even stronger. Collaboration, collegiality, and camaraderie have been at the heart of NELA from its start. NELA would not exist, nor be the vibrant and powerful force for positive change it is today, if not for the commitment of its members.

Listen to the NELA Thriving Since 1985 Spotify playlist to take a trip back to the year twelve lawyers decided to form an organization exclusively for plaintiffs’ employment lawyers. Special thanks to Craig Sumsky, Cutting Edge Entertainment, of Philadelphia for creating our anniversary playlist.