Leading with Compassion: How Peggy and Michael Pitt became the Champions of Accessibility at Wayne Law
By Jeff Garland
By taking a proactive approach to providing opportunities for those with physical disabilities, Wayne Law has quietly become a leader in fostering accessibility to law school and the legal profession.
Spearheading this approach have been Peggy and Michael Pitt (Wayne Law ’74), who, in recognizing the need for increased representation of the disability community in the practice of law, established, in 2001, an endowed fund at Wayne Law for the purpose of providing support services and accommodations to law students with physical disabilities. That year, the Law School was able to purchase a screen reader to help a visually impaired law student read cases.
Then, in 2021, the Pitts made an even more substantial contribution to Wayne Law, establishing both the Pitt Family Disability Law Clinic Annual Support Fund, which provides major support for the year-round operation of the Disability Law Clinic, as well as the Pitt Family Opportunity Scholarship for Individuals with Physical Disabilities. This scholarship recognizes Wayne Law as a welcoming place for people with disabilities and provides tuition assistance to eligible law students throughout the course of their time in law school. Taken together, the Pitts contributions ensure that those with physical disabilities are not only able to pursue a legal education and career, but can also be successful in doing so.
“The scholarship was Peggy’s idea,” Michael told me. She believed deeply that the practice of law was for everyone, regardless of physical ability or socioeconomic status, and, accordingly, the scholarship would further expand the accessibility of a law school education to an even wider pool of people.
For Peggy, this kind of giving came naturally. Raised by union lawyers, she learned from a very young age the power of caring and compassion—that a little bit of help could make life a lot easier for people who were struggling. And she practiced this approach throughout her life.
Early in her career, after earning her master’s degree in education, Peggy was a teacher in Detroit. She helped develop an adult reading program for illiterate factory workers at auto plants throughout the metro area. She also worked closely with middle school students in Detroit Public Schools who were struggling to read. She even dedicated part of her salary for this work to put her husband, Michael, through law school.
Michael, who was “broke” while in law school, originally had dreams of working in Big Law, including the status and wealth associated with being a well-respected lawyer as the driving force. But that quickly changed once he attended Wayne Law and started working as a student-attorney in the Free Legal Aid Clinic (FLAC), a service offered through the law school. FLAC gave Michael the opportunity to represent real people in real cases, and the experience profoundly changed his outlook. In one of his first cases as a student-attorney, Michael represented a Livonia man who had been arrested for marijuana possession. In digging into the facts of the case, Michael discovered that the arrest was unjustified and moved to have the case dismissed. The judge agreed, and that afternoon, Michael and some friends celebrated with bowling and beers. That feeling of representing the common man against the establishment—and helping to make their life a little bit easier—had now become Michael’s new driving force.
Once Michael started earning a salary of his own, he ultimately returned Peggy’s kindness and supported her as she began pursuing a legal education and career of her own.
Together as attorneys, the Pitts represented victims of disability discrimination, even before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. They witnessed how devastating this discrimination could be, particularly in terms of how it minimized employment opportunities for those with physical disabilities. Their practice, combined with their upbringing and experiences, taught Peggy and Michael there is even more that they could do to support the disability community.
Just as Michael, the “broke” law student, found a passion for representing the common man against the powerful establishment, Peggy believed that individuals with physical disabilities would make excellent advocates for the disability community as they could literally—and therefore more powerfully—represent their clients and their causes.
Recognizing this need for more representation of those with physical disabilities in the practice of law, Peggy and Michael resolved to create opportunities for members of the disability community to access a law school education and ultimately pursue a thriving legal career.
The Pitts’ vision of law school is a place where having a physical disability is not an impediment to pursuing a legal education. In partnering with Wayne Law, they are making their vision a reality. For more than two decades now, they have been inspiring students with physical disabilities to live their dreams, and their generous contributions promise to continue inspiring many more students in the coming years.
Sadly, Peggy passed away earlier this year, however leaves a meaningful legacy. “She was my hero,” Michael told me. She had a big heart for people who were struggling, and she gave whatever she could to help them for their own sake, never seeking any recognition or praise in return. She was all about leading by example, and her compassion continues to speak volumes, even still.