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In-House Counsel: Shelley Carthen Watson

The University of Minnesota has more than 30,000 employees, and Shelley Carthen Watson’s job is making sure that they have safe and peaceful places in which to perform their jobs.
Carthen Watson is a senior associate general counsel at the U, where her practice focuses on labor and employment matters. Her work includes providing day-to-day employment counseling to the university’s many units and departments, and also encompasses handling of labor issues—union-organizing campaigns, arbitrations, agency charges, as well as internal grievances with faculty and professional staff.
“A lot of what I do is making sure it never gets to litigation,” she says. “I try to shut it down before it gets to an agency charge, a demand, or a lawsuit. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about my job — the strategic aspects of it.”
She also is the staff leader on the university’s Response and Referral Network, which gathers information about bias incidents on the Twin Cities campus.
“We track the bias complaint so we can identify trends and determine whether there’s a need for policy changes or some other sort of high-level action in response to what we’re seeing,” she says. “We also do training for faculty and staff and students.”
Carthen Watson joined the Office of the General Counsel 20 years ago and has overseen the defeat of three organizing campaigns and the successful management of two strikes. “But it’s pretty easy to be a management lawyer at the university,” she says, “because we are really a decent employee-focused employer.”

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