Work & Activism
Peter took every opportunity to leverage his intellect, energy, and expertise to stand up with disenfranchised and marginalized communities.
Through his legal career and in his personal time, Peter tackled the major injustices of his time with boundless enthusiasm and creativity. Use the drop-down menu above to see some of the major contributions he made in public life.
Below is a summary of his legal career.
Throughout his legal career, Peter combined his unique background in mathematics and science with his legal acumen and political commitment to making the world a better place.
Peter attended Rutgers Law School from 1972 to 1975 at a time when its radical students had dubbed it the "Electric People's Law School." Three professors made a particular impression on Peter as "movement lawyers" and mentors: Al Blumrosen, Arthur Kinoy, and Frank Askin. Peter was one of the earliest alums of the Women's Rights Litigation Clinic at Rutgers-Newark.
Since graduating from Rutgers Law School in 1975, most of Peter’s practice involved employment cases. He first practiced employment law as a general attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor from 1976 through 1979 where he enforced the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and other employment laws. He then joined the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission where he became a Senior Trial Attorney with a specialty in cases arising under the Equal Pay Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
In 1982, he left federal service after seeing the devastating effect of the Reagan Administration's attack on federal agencies charged with defending workers' rights and eventually started his own law practice in Hoboken, NJ.
In 1988, Peter litigated to jury verdict and took an interlocutory appeal in the first jury verdict in New Jersey in a race discrimination case. Jackson v. Conrail, 223 N.J.Super. 467 (App.Div. 1988) (On jury awards of $1,000,000 in punitive damages and $600,000 in emotional distress damages, the court remanded the case for retrial of the emotional distress damages and new trial motion on punitive damages award).
In the late 1980s, Peter founded the National Employees Lawyers’ Association of New Jersey (). As the unpaid lobbyist for NELA-NJ, after the New Jersey Supreme Court abolished jury trials in discrimination cases, Shaner v. Horizon Bank, 116 N.J. 433 (1989), Peter successfully lobbied to enactment the Jury Trial Amendments, P.L. 1990, c.212., which provided for jury trials, compensatory and punitive damages for cases under the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-13, and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-5.
In 1993, in Rendine v. Pantzer, trial counsel retained Peter as their expert witness to provide empirical data to the court on the need for contingency multipliers in fee shifting cases. Working with a forensic economist, Dr. Frank Tinari, Peter surveyed contingent practitioners using the Delphi Methodology to estimate the expected premium they required before accepting a contingent case for litigation. Peter reported their results to the trial court, which awarded a multiplier of 2.0. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court, 276 N.J.Super. 398 (App.Div. 1994). The Supreme Court later reduced the amount of the risk multiplier to the present scale, 141 N.J. 292 (1995).
In 1993, Peter and his friend Bennet Zurofsky challenged RPC 4.2 in a matter reported as In re Opinion 668, 134 N.J. 294 (1993), which upheld their challenge and referred the matter to a special committee for rule making. Work with a colleague on that committee led to substantial modifications to RPC 1.13(a), 4.2 & 4.3 to allow counsel to conduct ex parte interviews of corporate employees who are outside the litigation control group. Peter regarded this reform as one of his finest efforts to curtail corporate power.
Peter published two articles for employment law practitioners in the New Jersey Law Journal on assessing discriminatory patterns in employment cases. In “Sizing Up Downsizing Cases for Age Discrimination,” 144 N.J.L.J.174 (1996), he described a practical, hands-on approach for employment lawyers to assess discrimination statistics before retaining an expensive expert. In Greenberg v. Camden County Voc. Tech. Schools, 310 N.J.Super. 189, 196 n.1 (App. Div. 1998), Judge Conley cited that article before applying an odds-ratio to verify her finding.
In the second article, “Exposing Older Workers to Financial Injuries,” 150 N.J.L.J. 474 (1997), Peter proposed three legal benchmarks for assessing liability given data disclosures made pursuant to the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act of 1990. Again, his aim was to explain how to quickly assess statistical patters of employment discrimination.
In 1997, NELA/NJ honored Peter—their chapter founder—at the organization’s 10th anniversary gala, writing in the event’s program:
“Our success as the thriving NELA Chapter we are is inextricably bound with our tireless founder and leader, Peter van Schaick. Some of our greatest victories as a Chapter—the 1990 amendments to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, guaranteeing a jury trial and all tort remedies such as punitive damages; expansion of Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2 permitting ex parte contact with corporate employees; etc.—can all be traced to Peter’s outstanding initiative and leadership. Before NELA/NJ, most of us were practicing in a lonely world. That has changed, in large part thanks to Peter’s superb networking efforts.”
With Linda and Alex in attendance, Peter delivered a toast to the principle of “Just Cause” and afterward told his family how happy he was that they were able to see what all his work had meant to the broader employee-rights community.
In 2002, Peter co-litigated through jury verdict a retaliation case on behalf of a senior sales executive, which led to a verdict of $2,900,000 in compensatory damages. The matter was settled subsequent to trial, and was discussed in “Age Discrimination Claims Rise Under New Management,” 170 N.J.L.J 829 (2002). In 2004, he represented an executive in a combined qui tam and whistleblower case, which settled for a combined amount of $8,400,000 after five years of litigation.
Peter also had a longstanding interest in China. Before the Navy discovered that Peter was ill suited for intelligence work due to his “ideological incompatibility” with the job, Peter learning Mandarin at the military’s language school in Monterrey, CA. He re-learned Mandarin in the early 2000s listening to Pimsleur’s courses while walking his dog. In 2003, he traveled much of the Chinese portion of the Silk Road with his son Alex and friends by train. In 2004, in Beijing, China, Peter spoke at the American Bar Association Asia Law Initiative on the private practice of public interest law in the United States. Former Attorney General Civiletti and Peter spoke on the “Economic Foundations of Public Interest Practice” in the USA. ABA President Gray and Peter spoke on “Public Interest Lawyers as Society’s Institutional Stewards.” Our audience was 150 Chinese lawyers who were celebrating the formation of the Constitutional Law Committee of the All China Lawyers Association.
In later years, Peter co-counseled and advised part time on civil rights cases and occasionally served as an expert witness. He gave his last recorded presentation over Zoom with his friend and co-counsel, Jen Brown, to members of the Race Unity Circle of Poughkeepsie, entitled “Fixing the Problem not the Blame: Dutchess County Government’s Discriminatory Employment Practices,” about their lawsuit against the County. Peter’s role in the presentation, fittingly, was to explain the statistical basis for their argument that the County’s hiring and promotion practices had a disparate impact on the employment of African Americans.