Peter van Schaick
Welcome. This is a space where we celebrate and remember the life and work of Peter van Schaick. Here we will share memories and photos of a man who touched many lives. We will also be creating an archive of his most notable work, achievements, and interests. Pete was a remarkable human whose presence will be deeply missed.
Peter always wanted to connect, talk, and bring people together. Please do not hesitate to contact his family and friends through the "Contact" page or leave a reflection in the "Share" page.
His obituary reads:
On Tuesday, May 28, 2020, Peter van Schaick—workers’ rights attorney, devoted father, and lifelong activist—died at home of natural causes. He was 74.
Peter was born in 1945 in Fort Myers, Florida, to John and Sally van Schaick. He spent most of his childhood in Schenectady, New York.
At age 17, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy. After fulfilling his service (during which he developed a principled opposition to the Vietnam War), he enrolled at State University of New York (SUNY) Albany where he earned a mathematics degree with honors in 1972, followed by a Master’s degree in criminal justice in 1973. In 1975, he earned a law degree from Rutgers School of Law.
Peter went on to practice employment law for more than four decades, starting his career at the U.S. Department of Labor, then moving to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1979 where he worked as a senior trial attorney. In 1982, Peter struck out on his own, establishing his private law practice in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was still a practicing attorney at the end of his life.
In 1970, he married Linda Hoos, whom he had met when they were both students at SUNY Albany. Together they raised their son, Alex van Schaick, eventually divorcing amicably in 2000.
Throughout his life, Peter was a champion for the underserved. He believed that “institutions shape human behavior” as he was fond of saying, and he used his unique background in math and law, and his political commitment, to change the societal structures that perpetuate racial and sexual discrimination, inequality, and all forms of injustice.
While still at Rutgers, Peter co-authored an article arguing that employers had a legal duty to provide a safe place to work under state law. This article (titled Injunctions Against Occupational Hazards: The Right to Work under Safe Conditions) ultimately led to the landmark case Shimp v. New Jersey Bell Tel. Co., which established the right to be free from secondhand smoke hazards in the workplace.
Shortly before his death, Peter was excited to see advocates rediscovering this body of law to seek injunctions against employers who ordered employees to work during the COVID-19 pandemic without appropriate safety precautions. He had already begun collaborating with practitioners in an effort to utilize this case in the fight against employers who were not providing adequate protections against COVID-19.
In the late 1980s, Peter founded the National Employees Lawyers’ Association of New Jersey (NELA-NJ). Peter litigated the first jury verdict in a race discrimination case in New Jersey, Jackson v. Conrail, and prevailed on appeal. One year later, the New Jersey Supreme Court abolished jury trials in discrimination cases. Through his unpaid efforts, Peter successfully lobbied to enact the Jury Trial Amendments of 1990 which provided for jury trials and compensatory and punitive damages for cases under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. He is regarded by many in the legal profession as a leader in protecting the rights of employees in the state of New Jersey.
Peter also volunteered for various political causes, including Bernie Sanders’ 2006 senatorial campaign. In his later years, Peter began spending more time volunteering on political and social justice campaigns, often travelling with his son, Alex, to such far-flung places as Mongolia where they studied the effects of post-Soviet privatization of common pastures on nomadic pastoralists, and to Ethiopia and Bolivia where he investigated global minimum wages and trade policy. Up until his death, Peter was participating in weekly family Zoom calls to plan political volunteering activities in an effort to defeat Donald Trump and the Republican-held Congress.
In his final years, Peter moved to the Hudson Valley, where he continued a limited practice of law as an advisor on cases against Prudential Life Insurance Co. and Dutchess County and supported local community racial justice initiatives.
Peter will be remembered by friends and family for his boundless curiosity, extraordinary intellect, generous spirit, and earnestness. All one had to do was ask, and Peter would be there to review a friend’s legal brief, knock doors for a progressive candidate, or give life advice to one of the many young people he mentored.
Peter is survived by his son, Alex; his siblings, Jake, Nancy, Katie, and Derry; and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
Peter van Schaick
- Born December 17, 1945
- Father, Friend, Comrade
- Sadly left us on May 26th, 2020.
An in-person memorial event will be planned when it is safe to gather.